Tag Archives: border

SPEEDING THROUGH SERBIA

My husband’s work requires that we travel to Central Europe from time to time. Occasionally we drive both ways, sometimes we take the ferry to or from Italy. The war in Kosovo made driving through the Balkans a very risky proposition, and this remained the case for some years after the conflict ended. Several years ago, after much discussion with friends who had recently braved the road trip again, we decided to drive through and judge the situation for ourselves.

Upon leaving Greece, you cross into FYROM/Macedonia (the name dispute has yet to be settled) and from there you enter Serbia. We successfully completed the various passport and customs checks at the Serbian border, and had driven a few miles into the country when we saw a tall, burly man in black uniform at the side of the road. He stepped forward, holding out his hand. My eyes were drawn to the large pistol on his belt, while my fingers flew faster over my knitting needles. Gulp!

We’d been warned to expect official roadblocks, and to be on our guard as there were likely to be organised gangs conducting holdups in that area, for we were in the vicinity of Kosovo. What hadn’t been clearly explained though was how to distinguish one from the other.

“What do you think?” my husband muttered, as he began to slow down. “If we stop, we might be ambushed, if we don’t…”

As we got closer, the man moved swiftly towards the car, coming up to my window as we stopped. I opened it halfway, clutching my needle tightly; I think I had some half-formed idea of poking his eye out as we died under a hail of bullets. He was unsmiling, but it became clear he intended no harm, and was asking for a lift to Belgrade, about three hours away. You don’t need a common language to understand “Beograd” accompanied by pointing up the highway, and a movement towards the rear door of the car.

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Once it was clear that he could ride with us, he made a hand motion to indicate that we should wait, and began walking towards some bushes. I must admit we had a brief tingle of alarm, but he was only retrieving his overnight bag. Phew!

“I’ll get in the back,” I announced, climbing out with my knitting bag and indicating to the chap to sit in front. He remonstrated at first, but I was adamant, and so we set off again. He pointed to himself, repeating a name which was quite unpronounceable and completely escapes me. The atmosphere was understandably awkward; some pleasantries were exchanged by means of broken German and English, punctuated by much hand waving and the odd Serbo-Croatian phrase from my pocket dictionary.

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Our passenger began to relax a little, becoming quite animated as he gesticulated at my knitting yarn and his head. I interpreted this as a reference to a hat, a knitted hat, which appeared to have warm memories for him, but while we gabbled incomprehensibly at each other, I dug in my knitting bag for my longest circular needle, and kept it next to me as I knitted away at my project.

This part of the highway is long and boring, quite depressing in fact, for it passes through endless miles of derelict farms and homesteads, sad reminders of a time when communities lived their lives and farmed their fields as they had for generations before the creation of Yugoslavia. Decaying buildings, long-abandoned orchards, lands now conquered by weeds stand in silent reproach of the Soviet era when families were moved off their lands and onto collective farms.

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The road is poor in parts, but stretches straight ahead. Dispiriting. The occasional car whizzed past us, as anxious as we to get away from the forlorn landscape. Unsure of the speed limit, hubby pointed to the speedometer, raising his hands and shoulders in that universal gesture of enquiry to our companion, who threw back his head in laughter. Sitting up even straighter, imposing in his uniform, he pointed cheerfully to his insignia. “No problem,” he announced in his heavy accent, “special policia!” So we sped along, the first and only time we’ve driven through Serbia with our own protection officer.

Given that we had no language in common, it’s amazing how much we gleaned from our convoluted conversation. Three hours is a long time to chat if those involved are making determined efforts to communicate, and we all did our best. We learnt that he had been in the Serbian army during the war in Kosovo, and was now in the Special Branch. He had to attend an official meeting in Belgrade, and it was up to him to make his own travel arrangements. He told us of his wife and family, he talked politics and history. He and I passed the phrasebook back and forth to each other, pointing out the words we needed, and we laughed. We all laughed. A lot. In that grim, war-ravaged country we managed to laugh. We three strangers, from backgrounds and cultures that could hardly be more divergent, had a grand old time, though I do wonder who and what he was exactly.

We dropped him off close to the river on the outskirts of Belgrade where he would stay the night with his sister, parting company with genuine regret. I got back into the front, still clutching my empty circular knitting needle. My husband commented on it, and was stunned when I explained that I’d had some vague plan to garrote our pal with it had the need arisen!

AMPHIPOLIS

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Jason

The Greek Ministry of Culture has recently made known details of the current excavations at Amphipolis, in northern Greece. News outlets worldwide are featuring the amazing discoveries at the tomb site, which have archaeologists in a flurry of scholarly speculation, and interested laymen eagerly anticipating each new revelation. The tomb appears to date back to the time of Alexander the Great, and although some have debated whether it was built for him, it’s highly unlikely that his remains were ever brought back to Greece. Could the tomb be that of his mother, or is someone of great importance to the royal family buried here? Debate rages among academics and amateurs alike.

What is not in dispute, however, is the stunning quality of the marble sculptures and the mosaic floor which have been uncovered so far. The public is understandably barred from the dig, but the Ministry of Culture has released some pictures and a short video.

The mosaic floor is quite spectacular! Composed entirely of pebbles and bits of stone in natural colours of white, black, gray, blue, yellow and red, the mosaic is large and includes the abduction of Persephone, one of the fascinating Greek myths. The scene has a border of spirals and squares in the typical Greek meander style. Sometimes called the Greek key, the meander is named for the river Meander, which twisted and wound its way to the Aegean Sea.

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Part of the Mosaic

I am fascinated by this mosaic, and particularly by the border, and have attempted to echo an aspect of it in two-colour stranded knitting. “Hats off to knitting!” I say, for knitting a small item such as a hat allows me to play a bit with colour and pattern. The hat is knit in the round, in three colours, using no more than two colours per row, with the background colour predominant. I used charcoal, grey and oatmeal tweed yarns, for the flecks of colour in each yarn are reminiscent of the flecks of colour in the stones of the mosaic. The meanders of the mosaic are too long for me to reproduce in knitting, for this would involve carrying the yarn not in use across the back of too many stitches, so I’ve copied the squares for this first sample. I think I might be playing with this for a while.

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Can’t resist the cyclamen!

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Natural Colours

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Jason Loves Flowers

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Jason Meets a New Friend

This praying mantis is nearing the end of his/her life, for it will not survive the winter but if it’s female, its eggs will have been laid, and we’ll have lots of these curious predators about the garden.

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Contemplating the Mountain, Shrouded in Mist

Mt Pelion and its environs, home of the centaurs, is the birthplace of many of the Greek myths. Here were first told wonderful stories of the gods, their attributes and achievements, their moods and misdeeds. Through how many centuries did these tales form part of the oral tradition? How far were these fables carried by wanderers and nomads to people and communities before ever being written down? Who was the original spinner of these enthralling yarns, and how much were the exploits of the gods embellished in the telling and re-telling of them?

We will never know.