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Longing for the simple life that never was and hoping for a future life of visits here without the boss. I’ve decided to nickname her Ebb for retreating from every decision she makes and then returning when the tide changes.

Getting here to Skopje was, well, fubar, even with the words spelled out and fully pronounced is too mild a term. The only appropriate word I can think of starts with “cluster.” Ebb was coming, not coming, coming to both countries, coming to one country. That would be fine except that to accommodate her I first had to move my departure for Tbilisi from Sunday to Saturday because she didn’t want to get in late Sunday night. Then she decided she wasn’t coming to Tbilisi. Then she insisted I arrive in Skopje Saturday instead of Sunday.

That was the easy part. The shipping costs of science kits we were donating were over 5k. So the backup plan was to send them with Ebb and I on the plane. Connect that bit with the aforementioned Ebb waiting until less than a week ahead to decide she was coming to Macedonia after all.

I should just black out the next section as I can’t think of any PG rated words to describe it. Moe, Larry and Curly could not have scripted it better. Y checked the extra boxes in online at United, my ticket issuer. My short hop flight from Philly landed, I left the secure area, and met him at Dulles check-in to check the boxes in at Dulles. United never issued a receipt. Go to United, nope flight is operated by Austria Air, go there. Go to Austria Air, no go to United and get a receipt. United, nope we can’t help you; you checked in online. Go to Austria Air and just pay again and we will sort it out later. Austria Air, lady, just go get on the plane, we will fight it out with United. Boarding was in progress but I did make the flight.

Cut forward to Skopje. The boxes and I arrived but in spite of all Y’s careful work to divide the cost, so as to be able to get through Customs, and proper documentation and complete willingness to pay vat and customs fees–no go. Science kits impounded after 45 minutes of unpacking, counting, weighing and explaining. Best guess is that the weekend team just didn’t want to deal with it–come back Monday. That means that the kits will not get to two of the three and maybe three of three sites in time for the event. Later I see Ebb checking in, “Oh Customs was really easy. They said ‘toys’ I said ‘yes’ and they handed me a paper.” I wanted to kill her but as K pointed out; no one is worth wearing orange for. I do look dreadful in orange.

In the meantime, she checked out of the Holiday Inn where we both were and moved to the Marriott. She wanted me to do the same but I said no. We at least have to figure out what happens tomorrow as the client has arranged transportation from the Holiday Inn and I don’t want them to have to bother people on Sunday to rearrange. Don’t even ask why we didn’t just go to the Marriott in the first place, it’s as long and ridiculous a story as the above.

Thankfully life improved Immeasurably with the appearance of A, our client contact. We had a lovely lunch of some of the best salads I’ve ever tasted. The Caprese was divine. Later we took a drive to St. Pantelemeon’s church up on the mountain. It is noted for a fresco that has Renaissance elements well before the Renaissance. The sky was not as cooperative as it could have been but it was nice enough. Back down from the mountain J joined us for a coffee and we had a lovely long chat.

Thursday

Peace has come with Ohrid at least for this brief moment of coffee and a lake view. Finally, I can think, but writing comes harder. What from the frenetic four days previous is worth committing to words? It was a pleasure to go on the drive to Gevgelija. The country side is exuberantly green and the towns compact as if carefully preserving the domain of nature. Vineyards stretched to the horizon inviting a leisurely trip through wine country.

Gevgelija they told me has changed. It is on the border with Greece and refugees have simply stayed rather than crossing. Strangers always change the peace and patterns of a town. They told me things have improved a bit but that Macedonia is a small and has no excess to fund these migrants.

In contrast to this dark corner of their lives was the most spectacular dessert I’ve ever been offered. What arrived was a dark chocolate orb the size of a tennis ball resting on a fruit sauce and a drizzle of caramel. Over this, the waiter poured warm white chocolate and cream thus melting the orb, mixing the chocolates and revealing the inner dark chocolate cake. It was indeed as good as it sounds.

Breakfast this morning is as wonderful for a different reason. There is coffee beside me and Lake Ohrid in front of me through the pines. This is the oldest and deepest lake in Europe and much deserving of its World Heritage designation. The distant mountains still wear threads of snow. The morning air is cool and I would freeze this moment and keep it as a locket of peace to calm me during the day.

Would that I were here alone rather than with Ebb. She is an incessant chatterer, endlessly repeating herself. For her, Silence is a stalker who must be kept away by a restraining order of sound. For me, Silence is a companion so comfortable we can walk with our arms around each other and never miss a step. So yesterday as Ebb and I walked the streets of old Ohrid I felt as if I were missing from my own experience of the town, pulled away by the sound of another.

Old Ohrid is filled with churches; three of the 362 we saw. These churches are sometimes the size of a single worshiper and yet as ornately painted as the largest cathedral. Solemn saints looked down on the faithful as if daring them to stray. Church yards are gardens and the roses are at their glory. Those roses remind me to write of the Lindens and Skopje but now I feel the restless need to walk the shoreline for a bit of solitude. In an hour I’m to meet Ebb for a boat ride and that too is another story.

Skopje had its pleasant moments, new restaurants discovered, a silver ring, the perfume of Lindens in bloom. The scent of these trees next to the river and my solitary morning walks under them were all too brief moments of peace. The work got accomplished and the visiting was fun at times. I’m reluctant to write of each Ebb incident even though each is a story. I simply don’t want those incidents to be the story of this time in Macedonia.

Leaving Skopje now, without having finished those stories. Alexander the Great airport is a noisy place. The architect did not consider how far the sound of a screaming child carries, never mind one whose sister imitates his every scream. These screams, reverberating the length of the airport, make it difficult to reach into memory and write.

And so to Istanbul. The free wifi requires a local phone and paying 45 USD for a day is silly. Glitz and glam rule here with high end everything and nothing being sold. Functionality I’d pay for and did. The restaurant with charging stations got my business. There are neither comfortable seats nor electrical outlets available to the rabble. Clearly I’ve been too many places. None of the local goods holds any interest and I walk by only for the exercise.

It would be well to complete the stories from Macedonia. It is a land I love and in my mind, retire to. It is endless miles of green fields and forests. Meadows spread on mountaintops above the tree line. People have the decency to compact themselves into villages as if careful to take as little space from nature as possible. Over and over, the Macedonians express their love of the outdoors. Indeed, a family picnic or a day in the park is still high entertainment. The “big city” Skopje, with its 500,000 was referred to as “hell” by our driver, G. To me, it is next door to heaven or at least a three hour drive.

Ohrid could be to me as Havana was to Hemingway, waterfront cafes, fishing villages, a hearty camaraderie and the alcohol to fuel a good yarn.  Ebb read on some tour site that one should simply walk up to any boat captain and arrange a ride. First guy with a boat she saw, she set us up for a boat ride next morning. The captain spoke very little English and told us to call him Captain Cook. It was a good omen when he arrived at our hotel right on time.

In truth, he was a good guy. He paid attention to what we photographed and slowed the boat for us. When he realized I was trying to photograph the cormorants in the reeds, he slowed. Eventually and by dumb luck, I did get one good photo. The weather was lovely and we got a nice view of Ohrid as well as stopping at St. Jovani monastery. Located on a peninsula, it commands a perfect view of the distant shores. A couple was there getting wedding photos and they looked lovely, but the buzz of their photo drone rudely intruded on the serenity I expected to feel.

At the foot of the monastery was a tiny church. The keeper of the keys was introduced by Captain Cook as George Clooney. We all enjoyed the joke. George did bear a vague resemblance to the original and he seemed amused when we took photos. Captain Cook eventually deposited us in Ohrid center and when we paid him more than asked, he gave us each a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

As the possessor of a local phone number, I was on duty to coordinate with our hosts who were coming and going at all different times.  Just as Ebb and I sat down to lunch, A called. Just seconds earlier, the call to prayer started; I closed one ear and tried to listen with the other. Convinced A that Ebb and I who had traveled the world, could take a taxi to St. Naum, 20 minutes away all by ourselves and that we would be back to meet their families by four. We promised not to get lost.

Ebb had been on the trail of a dark chocolate gelato for two days. After lunch, we walked to several shops and kept walking until we found the required dark chocolate. I ordered cherry where upon she decided it looked good and ordered cherry too. Cherry we could have gotten at the first place. We finished up our gelato and found a cab.

The road to St. Naum winds higher through the mountains, yet still in sight of the lake. Our driver, a local, stopped to show us the Bay of Bones. Under the water, divers can see the remains of a civilization pre-dating the Christian era. Above the water is a reconstruction of the houses they likely built. The view is magnificent and yet it was surpassed by the next view down to an exquisite small bay.

By contrast, St. Naum’s seemed a small and humble human effort dwarfed by earth itself. Indeed, it was the peacocks, yet another part of the natural world that were most interesting at the monastery. Had we more time, I would have suggested driving the few more miles to the Albanian border just to cross the arbitrary line into another country. If nature has a consciousness, she must just shake her head in bewilderment about our need to divide the essential whole.

That evening, G, whom Ebb consistently called Gorgon, got us back to Skopje in record time. When he dropped me I congratulated him and he grinned. “Macedonian women tell me, G, G, slow down. I like American women. They say, drive fast.”

 

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