Shot/Seen

Some words, some photos

I was not drunk, I did not flirt

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Christina

If you hear that, while in Thessaloniki, I got drunk and flirted with the bright-eyed and perpetually smiling Christina Koza, don’t believe a word of it.

I will admit to being pleasantly buzzed on five or six beer, a couple of glasses of good red wine, and a couple more of bad, overly-sweet red wine. I had no trouble walking or talking and, at one point, even danced a little in my chair without falling out of it.

As for flirting with Christina, I have no idea where that comes from. Until the end of the evening, this was our sole conversation:

“Hi, I’m Christina.”

“I’m Mark. Sorry, I don’t have any Greek.”

“No problem.”

Christina, with whom I did not flirt, as well as being bright-eyed and perpetually smiling, is a fine singer of Greek songs. She was on the crowded stage when Katarina led us through the doors of Apoikia, a small bar/nightclub in a quiet neighbourhood of Thessaloniki, Greece, and into one of the musical highlights of our Balkan travels.

We were fortunate to catch her: it was Christina’s last night in the city before returning home to Rhodes. She sang with Andreas Karakotas, also a very fine singer of Greek songs, his brother, Vasilis, no slouch behind a microphone either, and players of stand-up bass, bouzouki and keyboards.

It was a neighbourhood evening. The club – more of a restaurant/bar – filled up through the late evening, mostly with couples and groups. They didn’t just listen: some danced, a lot sang along with every song and chatted with the musicians, even as they played. The music was wonderful, tinged with the touch of soul that goes with much Greek music.

So I clapped along, I danced in my chair and I drank, but not to the point of drunkenness. And I did not flirt.

The only other time I spoke with Christina came as we were leaving in the early morning hours. She came off stage to say goodbye, primarily to Katarina, our host. When we shook hands, I did get her e-mail address, but only so that I could send her a web link once I had edited and uploaded that evening’s photos and video.

Those photos are possibly my best defense against the rumour of drunkenness. Autofocus would explain why most of them are not blurry, but the artful composition shows a man still in control of his higher functions.

As for the flirting, you’ll have to take my word for it.

Christina

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Written by yadb

July 22, 2009 at 3:09 am

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Skopje, Macedonia

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Small businesses in Skopje's old market town.

Small businesses in Skopje's old market town.

I want a t-shirt that reads “Skopje – I was there before it got trendy.” You get the feeling trendy will be the result, or is at least the aim, of what’s happening in the Macedonian capital.

Skopje is a nice small city. It’s dissected by the river Vardar, and in the central area it is resolutely Turkish/Armenian market town on one side (the left bank as you look upstream) and European city on the right.

Walk off the stone Kamen Most (most=bridge) onto the right bank and you’re in a huge public square that leads to a broad, car-free boulevard. It stretches long and wide, lined with canopied cafes fronting upscale shops, most of them with the signs and brand names you’d find in any upscale Western mall. To the left – downstream – the high riverbank is covered with broad beer- and soft-drink-sponsored umbrellas and cafe after cafe after cafe, filled mostly with well-dressed young.

Walk off the stone Kamen Most to the right (passing by table after table of passive Roma entrepreneurs and some of the most aggressive young panhandlers anywhere) and, 80 metres on, you’re on flagstones, in narrow streets that bend and twist. This is Carsija, Skopje’s old Turkish bazaar. The storefronts, mostly old, narrow and well-maintained, offer a mixture of goldsmiths, tailors, souvenir sellers, tiny cafes. The streets are mostly car-free, but are not free of large push or pedal-powered handcarts, packed high with everything from clothes to bottled water. On side streets, there are tombs, mosques and bathhouses, some converted to art galleries. Above it all is Tvrdina Kale, the old city fort, the scene of both a major archaelogical dig and major restoration project.

In fact, scattered throughout central Skopje, on both sides of the Vardar, there is construction and restoration. (This applies primarily to the centre, which is surrounded by crumbling and unimaginative apartment blocks.)

The city, it seems, is in the process of becoming a version of itself that exploits both of its parts, a determined effort to grow the new while sprucing up the old. Even now, it’s a pleasant place to stay for day or two. Five years from now, this could be one of those places featured on the must-see lists of tourist promoters and travel agencies.

Outside an old house in Skopje.

Outside an old house in Skopje.

Written by yadb

July 16, 2009 at 3:37 pm

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Borders

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On the Turkish-Greek border

On the Turkish-Greek border

There’s no evidence in my passport that I’ve ever been to Macedonia or Bosnia.

For two days, I had a Macedonia entry stamp, on a loose piece of thick paper a border guard had tucked into my passport, but when we rolled out of Macedonia and into Serbia, they took it away.

When we entered Bosnia at Metković, a pleasant young uniformed woman walked through the bus and gave each passport only a quick glance. It was the same when we left, near Bijeljina: quick glance, no stamp.

In four weeks, we crossed borders seven times, stopped twice each time – once to exit the current country and then, anywhere from seconds to long minutes later, to enter the next. We never had a problem, but others did. Leaving Macedonia, an overly-made-up 20-something in short skirt and towering heels, who had ridden with us since Skopje, was last seen talking earnestly to a border guard as the bus pulled away. Entering Croatia, a young man was led off the bus but he made it back.

Border crossings are signs of change, proof you are moving, trading what’s been seen for new territory. There’s excitement in entering a never-visited country. Although the surrounding landscape rarely changes, it seems fresh because it is unseen. It is almost ceremonial to present your passport, be scrutinized and to get the stamp. (Travelling by bus and train, you lose the ceremony: a conductor, driver or a border guard collects all passports and hauls them off to a room, which we could sometimes see into, to be quickly paged through and thumped with largely illegible entry or exit stamps.)

Our crossings were efficient and smooth. If there was a common mood, it was boredom, either on the part of officials (such as the bored and unhappy woman who took my 60 Euros and pasted the Turkish visa into my passport) or on ours (staring at the institutional scenery of a crossing for the 10, 20 or 30 minutes it took to process a busload of passports).

Two crossings stand out.

We went into Montenegro, near Gostun, in dark, early morning hours. Because of construction further down the road, the Montenegran border guards were temporarily housed in a large shack on the side of a narrow road in a steep-walled mountain pass, well away from any town or village. From the bus, I watch four uniformed men, sitting at a picnic table, in a pool of a halogen streetlight, process the passports. It is a wonderful scene, straight from a ‘60s east-vs-west spy movie, but there was a large sign banning photography and I didn’t risk it.

Days earlier, also in pre-dawn hours, we passed from Turkey into Greece by train. The customs house was a large, rambling wooden building, its windows largely dark. But at the far end of the station, in a smaller, separate building, a large, electric sign glowed, and bright light spilled from an open, welcoming door.

It was a duty-free shop, which I presume had been opened at 4:45 a.m. for our train, especially to sell alcohol and cartons of cigarettes.

Entering Greece by train at 3:30 a.m.

Entering Greece by train at 3:30 a.m.

Written by yadb

June 13, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Balkan travels

Mostar

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mostar_3

At first, Mostar’s war wounds are fascinating. Walk down a street, and it can be almost any street, and you are confronted with the walls of homes and businesses, still peppered with holes created by light and heavy arms fire.

This Bosnian city is, of course, most famous for its bridge, the Stari Most, an elegant arch over the Neretva River. It was built in the 16th century, pounded to rubble by Croatian Defense Council artillery in 1993, and reconstructed, largely thanks to outside money, and reopened in 2004. It is truly a wonder.

Mosques and churches have also been rebuilt or repaired. Along the cobbled streets that lead to and from the Stari Most, the bazaar of souvenir stands (souvenirs include pens made from bullet casings, in a variety of calibres), cafes and restaurants has re-emerged from carnage.

But those bullet holes are pointers to a sobering part of the reality of Mostar.

It doesn’t take long for the initial fascination with the reminders of the too-recent war – the sense of being in touch with history – to turn to a powerful feeling that’s akin to despair. After a while, almost all you see are the scars, the holes punched through thick stone walls, the condemned ruins that were blasted almost to bits.

I don’t want you to take this wrong. Mostar is a lovely small city. The rebuilt bridge is a marvel. And despite the bullet and shell holes and whatever psychic wounds they carry, the people we spoke with are relaxed and friendly, with a tremendous sense of humour.

There’s one building in particular, three storeys tall and covering half a city block, one street above the tourist-heavy market street. Former building, I should say, for while its walls still stand, its interior is a mangled crush of wood, bricks and mortar. It looks like someone has painted red around the gaping, glassless windows to suggest the flames that must have once raged.

You can see the savagery of the destruction clearly from across the street, from a concrete bench in what used to be a park. It is still green and flowered, but now the flowers are on row after row of closely fitted clean, white gravestones. On every one of them, the date of death is 1993.

mostar_2

(Second in a series of short photo-and-word essays that arise from four weeks of travel through the Balkans.)

Written by yadb

June 11, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Balkan travels

Serbia

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women_belgrade_3

There are many strikingly attractive women in Belgrade. They work hard at it, according to Katharina, my informant on Serbian matters. They have to, because there are three (or four or five) women for every man here. Looking good is competitive.

(In Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srbska in poor, divided Bosnia, the ratio is apparently 7:1, but I didn’t go there so cannot attest to the beauty of Bosnian Serb women.)

It’s not just the young women in their tight jeans and stiletto heels, though. Genetics are at play: there are also many beautiful older Serbian women on the streets and in the cafes of Belgrade.

I have no comment on the beauty of the men. The young ones, of which there are many, are still in the process of being formed. As for the older men, I was distracted by the women with them. When it comes to the men of Serbia, you’ll have to go look for yourself.

women_belgrade_1

(This is the first in what I hope will be a series of short essays, written as the result of four weeks of travelling through southeast Europe.)

Written by yadb

June 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Balkan travels

The sky below

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Killer whale mural across the side of a Vancouver building near Main Street.

Killer whale mural across the side of a Vancouver building near Main Street.

Written by yadb

April 12, 2009 at 8:11 pm

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‘Til the crows come home

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crows_roost

Every evening, in the trees along Still Creek in Burnaby, the Vancouver area’s population of crows gathers to roost and it is a spectacular thing to see and hear. We went out tonight to see them gather, and I managed this shot in the dying light of the day. I need to go back some time, with tripod and a plan of attack.

Tech stuff: Shot at 1600 ISO on my Canon G10, in program mode with a -1 EV to hold the setting sun. Noise reduced with Noise Ninja, which I purchased especially for this occasion.

crows_roost2

As well as settling into the trees, the crows cover nearby buildings as they wait for dark. This was shot with my Canon SX100 IS, also on program, at 800 ISO.

Written by yadb

February 21, 2009 at 4:58 am

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