I recently said that Kosovo didn't make much sense as an independent country. Let me follow up on that a little.
Kosovo will probably gain "conditional independence" sometime within the next 12 to 18 months, with full no-kidding independence coming some years later. Whether that's a good idea or not is another question. Let's just ask: what would an independent Kosovo look like?
[The headstones] mark the British war dead of 1940-45. Albania wasn't a major theater of action, but apparently things were happening, because forty-five British soldiers got killed. (I counted the stones.)
It was very moving. The stones were simple white limestone. Each had a regimental crest -- "South Lancashire Fusiliers," and such -- a name, age, dates, and a short line. Sometimes these were obviously dictated by the family ("Your wife and mother will cherish your memory"); more often, they were lines of poetry or Bible verses. The youngest soldier I saw was 22; the oldest, 37.
The whole enclosure wasn't more than twenty feet by thirty, tops. It sat at a wide spot in the path, overlooking the little lake. There was a small stela with some withered poppy-flower wreaths, presumably laid by the local British community.
I did notice one odd thing about the site: the headstones seemed much older than the graveyard itself.
...the enclosure and stela were obviously new, not more than a few years old. But the headstones looked older, possibly old enough to date back to the war. The obvious conclusion would be that there was an original cemetery set up by the British just after the war, but that the Communist government shut it down after relations soured. (But then, why keep the headstones? Or did they simply move the whole thing to some isolated spot in the mountains for 45 years?)
I had a few moments to spare on my last day in Pristina, so I visited the museum.
I ended up kinda wishing I hadn't.
The museum itself is a lovely two-story building, a renovated Ottoman villa, in the center of town. (Pristina doesn't really have a center, but it's near that big intersection where there are, like, four mosques in a two-block radius.) From the outside, it looked pretty promising. Kosovo has no lack of history, goodness knows. So I was looking forward to... oh, I don't know. Stone Age fertility carvings? Roman coins? Ottoman rugs? Surely something interesting.
Well, yes and no. There was only one exhibit in the museum. It was quite a large exhibit. You could spend a while looking at it. No Roman coins or Greek vases; no, just this one big exhibit.
And that exhibit was...
Can you guess?
This already happened last week but I only read about it in the Zeit magazine today. I wonder how much media attention it got in the US -- neither Doug nor I had noticed any reports about this but then, we've been busy, so it might have slipped past us.
If you are a reader of this blog you may know that I've been outraged by the US treatment of "enemy combatants" for a long, long time. It's shameful, to say the least, and bad things just keep happening. I would love to be wrong, I really would. But it seems not.
Going with the theme is this piece of news from yesterday:
[Sorry for the extended quote but NYTimes links go bad after a week or so.]
So we have this little monster infestation at our house. We have a new maid and in her "other" household, there are monsters living in the basement. She uses those monsters to threaten the kids there whenever they do something "naughty". When I first heard her do that, I told her that we don't have monsters here, and that she please shouldn't use that threat with my kids.
It was too late.
One of my last meetings was with a Minister of the Kosovar government, and I was struck by a couple of things.
One was that the Minister was pretty young. Younger than me, and I'd be a young-ish minister most places. People say he got to be a Minister because he was a brave fighter in the KLA, back in the guerrilla war of 1996-99. That may not seem like a great criterion for running a big chunk of the government, but you don't want to tell that to the Kosovars.
...Actually, that's unfair. A large minority of Kosovars do think that bravery in the independence struggle should not be the most important qualification for government office. But Kosovar society is pretty clannish, and the war forged very intense loyalties. Especially among those who fought in the early days, when the KLA was small and the struggle seemed almost hopeless.
Anyway. I was also struck by the decor of the Minister's office. It was totally dominated by two things:
-- An enormous blowup photo of Adem Jashari, and
-- A prominently displayed picture of Bill Clinton.
I've mentioned that Kosovars love Americans, right? Let me add: they really love Bill Clinton.
* * * * *
Pristina seems pretty socially liberal. Young people of both sexes dress fashionably. Couples walk arm in arm. I'm told that in the summer, young women walk around with miniskirts, bare midriffs, heels... the whole Balkan hooker-chic thing. (Not that I'm paying attention.)
The Albanians are nominally Islamic, but everyone drinks beer and every restaurant serves pork dishes. In ten days, I think I saw maybe three women wearing the head-scarf.
Still, there were a couple of things that distinguished Pristina from Belgrade or Bucharest.
There are some Chinese shops in Pristina. (Shops run by Chinese, that is.)
A couple in Skopje, too. There are thousands of Chinese in Belgrade and Bucharest... I think we've mentioned this?
There are also a couple of Chinese restaurants. I had dinner in one. Pretty good Kung Pao Chicken, and those cucumber chunks rolled in pepper sauce and garlic. Nice.
The owner had a 10-month-old baby. In a generation there will be Chinese-Serbs, Chinese-Romanians, and Chinese-Kosovars. Not a lot, but a few thousand, concentrated in the big cities.
I have no problem with this, myself, but the locals don't seem too happy about it.
-- The Presidential Seal of Albania will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen the Presidential Seal of the United States. That's because it IS the Presidential Seal of the United States. The Albanians, loving Americans as they do, copied it. The only difference is the color scheme (red and black instead of red, white and blue), plus they have the Albanian two-headed eagle instead of the American eagle.
It's the sound a diesel generator makes.
I'm hearing it outside my window right now, because Pristina is having another blackout. They seem to average four or five per day, lasting anywhere from five minutes to several hours.
This is a little odd, because Kosovo has a lot of coal. It should be able to generate plenty of electricity, and even have some left over to export.
But the electrical system was allowed to decay (like everything else in Serbia) during the kleptocratic days of the '90s. And then it got badly trashed during the war.
Today... well, it's become sort of a black hole of money. International donors have sunk over half a billion dollars into Kosovo's electrical system since 1999. (That's more than 25% of Kosovo's current GDP.)
It hasn't helped. In fact, it's worse now. And the blackouts are doing a lot of damage to the economy. One estimate is that they're adding 10% to the cost of doing business here. (Because electricity from loud little diesel generators, one for every house and shop, is really expensive.) Another is that the blackouts are shaving 5% off of the standard of living... which is already Europe's lowest.
Here's a figure that stuck with me: 170 -50 -50 = 70.
The saddest thing I've seen here?
The Yugoslav-era Memorial of Brotherhood and Unity.
It's a 15-meter concrete pillar. Three pillars, really, a few feet apart at the base and joining together at the top. There's an abstract sculpture in fron, vaguely resembling a group of people. (The design is eerily similar to the Martyr's Memorial in central Bucharest, across from the Hilton. Go figure.)
The triple pillar symbolizes the three peoples of Kosovo -- Albanians, Turks and Serbs. It stands in the middle of a big empty plaza, on a pavement of marble slabs, in the very center of Pristina.
So there have been some bombings in Pristina lately.
Four or five so far this year. Three of them have been attacks on UN police cars. Nobody's been killed or hurt, but it does have people on edge a little.
At least two of the bombings were claimed by a shadowy group calling itself the Kosovo Independence Army. The KIA may or may not be connected to some bandit-like groups of armed men who have been stopping cars in rural Kosovo. Most of these episodes have been in western Kosovo, near the Albanian border -- a region that has always been, ah, difficult to administer.
One difference between the past and today, of course, is the presence of nearly 20,000 NATO troops. And NATO does not seem overly concerned.
There may be several things at work here.
It's really cold here in Pristina.
I didn't pack an overcoat because -- follow my reasoning here -- it was pleasant autumn weather when I left Bucharest, and Pristina is about 150 miles (250 km) further south. Heck, Pristina is only about 120 miles (200 km) from the lovely Adriatic coast, where orange trees and olive groves bask in the sun. How cold could it get?
This Warning Label Generator is making the rounds in the blogosphere. David is very much two years these days. His last tantrum lasted two hours. So, I created this label:
I think I should print it on transfer paper and make a T-shirt for him. It would be an appropriate warning for innocent bystanders...
It's twelve feet tall. A banner, really.
It hangs above the door of the Youth Center, which is a really stunningly hideous building from the 1970s. It shows Adem Jashari in full combat regalia... fatigues, assault rifle, enormous beard. Insofar as you can make out his expression (it's a big beard), he looks about two parts menacing, one part mournful.
So I trashed my computer. Whatever excuses there may be (up since 3 am, totally exhausted with colicky baby and husband in Kosovo, post-pregnancy clumsiness, etc.), the truth is, I shouldn't have had that cup of coffee in my hands. Because I dropped it. Onto the laptop. Which then promptly died. Like D-I-E-D, died. Totally dead.
It's at the repair shop, where they will try to retrieve at least my data. Kid's pix since April. iTunes Music. Documents. The works.
They were nice enough to hook up Doug's old, old, old laptop to the Internet, so I'm not out of touch. You wouldn't believe how isolated you feel when the Internet is down. Maybe more so when your husband is traveling. So, I'm back online. And thinking about a new computer. I'm thinking a desktop this time. We're just really bad spillers and with a desktop the risk isn't so great. Any suggestions?
Albanians love Americans. And Kosovar Albanians... they really love Americans.
There are US flags everywhere. When I say I'm American, people smile. I had a meeting yesterday with a guy who had a copy of the US Declaration of Independence on his wall. (Didn't speak ten words of English.) And the second-biggest street in town is Bill Clinton Boulevard. It's not quite as important as Mother Theresa Boulevard -- you did know Mother Theresa was Albanian, right? -- but it's close.
There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that Kosovo is one of those places where everyone has a cousin in Brooklyn. There's a saying in Albania that translates, "Fear not! For you have sons in America."
Of course, that's true of a number of countries around here -- Serbia, most obviously -- and it doesn't make them love love love America. No, the big reason is that the US bombed the Serbs out of Kosovo in 1999, thereby releasing the Kosovar Albanians from a decade of apartheid, oppression, impoverishment, and collective misery and humiliation, and enabling them to inflict the same on the few Serbs who were too poor or too stubborn to run away.
So I'm in Pristina, in Kosovo.
This is my first time in Kosovo. I came with mixed feelings. On one hand, I hadn't heard much good about the province. "A dump" was the most typical comment. On the other hand, I had been pleasantly surprised by Tirana, in Albania. And... I was curious to see what the fuss was all about.
Brief first impressions:
Since we are obviously so great at blogging on a regular basis, we decided to have a photo blog as well. It's mainly intended for the family and will mostly have pictures of the kids. I do plan to have the occasional Romania picture as well, though. If you are interested, the blog can be found here.
Romanian cooking is tasty but I would not call it spicy. This is a cuisine where they warn about the hotness of a dish that doesn't even make you break a sweat. Or, me, anyhow. Granted, I'm more than your average person when it comes to spiciness. I like it hot. That's why it baffles me that a country that has those nice ardei iute (hot peppers) doesn't do all that much with them. The pickled version is nice but not very exciting. The only dish I've ever encountered that made me go "wow" was what we came to call "hot pepper oil". It's ridiculously simple and we first had it in Oradea, in a small pizzeria on the river. It might not even be Romanian. I'm sure it exists in other countries as well since it so easy to make. But, as with so many things, easy often is best.
Here's how to make your own hot pepper oil:
Been busy lately. Some highlights:
Dinner with the ex-girlfriend. It was very nice, Mughlai food, and she only drew a knife on me once. True! She suggested her pseudonym for this blog be my "Former Future Ex-Wife". But she also wanted something literary, and I am kind of fond of "La Belle Dame sans Culottes (Rforme)".
Various subway mishaps. They actually deserve their own post, I think.
The Manhattan maple syrup manifestation. That, too, deserves its own post. Soon!
I missed Doug while he was briefly in the States, and JohnHolbo was in Brooklyn as well, darn it. I could have asked him to autograph my Blue and Brown Books.
Anyway. This weekend, I am making preserved lemons for tagine and removing paint from my door fixtures while fighting off a cold (and failing to fight off a headache) in between poring over Excel spreadsheets. Also catching up on my sleep: excitement galore! Alas, my home football team is tres suxxor this year. Still, here's an interesting article on the really beautiful game.
And here's a poem by Frank O'Hara that mFFEW/LBDsCR almost certainly knows by heart:
Belle mentions that her husband is in the US and she's alone with two girls. I can top that: my husband is in the US and I'm alone with three boys, one of them a newborn. AND he will come back for ONE DAY and then take off for a two-week jaunt in Kosovo, missing both my birthday and probably also Thanksgiving.
I think I win that one with both hands down.