Sunday, July 31, 2022

On my way home : With a stop in Warsaw and with Private Romeo

In my days reviewing I have seen more than my fair share of Romeo and Juliet. In ancient plays where men play all parts. In the embodiment with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. In sparse staging and overwhelming authenticity. In Shakespeare in Love where Joseph Finnes and Gwyneth Paltrow play the lovers. But...

Today as I have a layover in Warsaw, I watched Private Romeo. I have it on a .mov file and watched it on my laptop. If you haven't seen it (and really, no one has), let me know and I can send you a copy via memory stick.

This version is set in a military school over a break. Matt Doyle, recent Tony Award winner, plays Juliet. Seth Numrich, an amazing actor from Broadway and recently from the TV Series Far From Heaven, plays Romeo. They read the play for class, but also embody the play for the screen. It is perfect.

You san see the trailer if you search for it. But simply watch this scene where Romeo and Juliet meet. In the play they slip out of a party to speak, you'll see what happens at this boarding school. AS they say in stupid shows... Magic.

Spomenik #4: Kurzevo

 This is probably the best maintained spomenik I saw. It is called both "Ilinden Memorial" and the "Makedonium".

Most Spomeniks had these kind of "seating" for commemorations.

Unlike most I saw, this one commemorates the uprising a the Ottomans in 1903, and the short independence they had afterward. The guide in Skopje said this period was the First Republic of Macedonia, even thought it was short lived. I will copy from the entry:

Ilinden Uprising

The primary historical event this monument commemorates is the Ilinden Uprising, which was an uprising of Macedonian IMARO rebels initiated against Ottoman rule on August 2nd, 1903. During this time, in the region of present-day Kruševo, resistance fighters proclaimed this newly liberated land to be the land of the Kruševo Republic, under the leadership of then school-teacher turned war-hero Nikola Karev. This separatist territory lasted less than two weeks before it was suppressed by 176,000 Turk soldiers and put back under Ottoman control, with nearly 9000 people being executed at the hands of the Turks in retaliation.

It was well maintained and actually had an entrance fee - 40 dinars or about 35 US cents. Inside were mosaics in the roof and reliefs framing the clear windows.

Very cool.

Witht he woman for scale, you can see the size of the windows, the stained glass and, if you look next to the windows, the reliefs.

The skylight

This relief commemorates the uprising versus the Ottomans.

This relief shows the people overcoming the ottomans. If you look on the right side you can make out a partisan with a gun.

Spomenik #3: Prilep

 In Macedonia's large town in the south is Prilep. It seems a healthy economy not dependent on tourism - I am not sure what the build, but there is a lot of marble and coal excavation nearby.

The look a bit like giant chess pieces. It makes sense when you think individuals are the pawns in warfare

This spomenik is in the "People's Park of the Revolution" and it is called Burial Mound of the Unbeaten. It commemorates the roughly 800 fallen Partisan soldiers who fought for the liberation of Prilep from German and Bulgarian forces during WWII.

The park was used by children playing in the fields and swings not far from here. But these are still kept up in memory of those fighters.

The names of the fighters are etched in the marble semi-circle. The analogy is that once you enter the area, you cannot get out with seeing these partisans.

Spomenik #2: Kavardaric

 This is one of the most striking monuments in all of Macedonia, to me. There are others that are still used (the next 2), but this is the one that strikes me as beautiful and moving. It is technically called The Memorial Ossuary of Fallen Fighters. 

The stairs are now locked, and you cannot climb up to the observation deck.

It is on a hill above the city of Kavardaric. The city is strategic militarily. It was here, during WWII that the fascist forces of Italy, Nazi Germany and Bulgaria met when invading the Balkans. The partisans made this strategic point mostly ineffective by waging a continual guerilla war to prevent use of the valley.

The area is softened with trees, and the landscaping is still maintained (I saw a local trimming away the edges with a weed whacker.

This monument was erected in 1976 to commemorate those fighters.

Sadly, this monument has been abandoned, but because it is concrete (as opposed to metal or copper statues) it has not deteriorated as badly as some others. My gps us took me up a dirt road to get here, but I later found the stairs that lead up the hill from a different angle.

The people still use this as the focus of health. Older people in particular hike and climb the steps, making 1 or 2 rounds of the monument, and then going back town. I saw one older gentlemen doing the walk. Macedonians are pretty stoic and he ignored me, until I smiled an said hello, and he waved back with a smile.

The wide view of the complex, and the plinths that mark the enemies and the defenders.

Past the trees is a pathway that the old man was using.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Spomonik #1 in Veles

 As I said, I will be posting something about most of the spomoniks I visited. This was the first, not far out of Skopje. It is more interesting after I tell you the story.

The Veles Spomonik

This was completed sometime in the 1970s. Not long after the fall of Yugoslavia it feel into disrepair, but the country has cleaned it up a bit, got rid of the graffiti and repaved (most of) the steps. At first it looks just like a goofy modernistic "thing".

This one, however, is not dedicated so much to a specific action or people, but to the people of Macedonia (& Yugoslavia) moving beyond the past. The imagery is designed to represent a fascist helmet, that is spilt apart by a poppy blooming,  The poppy is a symbol of peace and rebirth here.

See nicer when you know the story. 

Inside was closed when I was there, but this is a statue of rebirth and a family inside the museum, which is inside the shell.

As you approach you first head into this amphitheater where villages and towns are represented on the white plinths.

Nearly off the Spomoniks I saw were set on high ground, overlooking the cities and countryside. This city is Veles.

The Painted Mosque

 Macedonia's history includes centuries of rule by the Ottoman Empire (and before that by the orthodox Byzantines). The Ottoman's brought Islam to the region, and many of the Macedonians of Albanian heritage still are Muslim. 

Side note, the Macedonians are fine with most Muslims. But the few Mosques that have 2, not 1 prayer tower, are Wahabi Muslims from Saudi Arabia. They do NOT like them.

Okay, back to the point. In the late 1400s, a mosque was built in a town about 20 miles outside Skopje. It was damaged (earthquake) and rebuilt in the early 1800s. And in the 1800s, the local Muslims were super impressed by Italian frescos. So they painted the Mosque with frescos by imported artists. And this Mosque is famous in the Balkans and Turkey as the "Painted Mosque." It is... well you check it out below.

Required selfie

Exterior walls

Detail of ceiling

It isn't super large, but it is very ornate.

Outside garden with prayer rugs.

Like all Mosques I have been to, you have to take off your shoes, and women have to cover their heads (they lend scarfs). There were a few people praying, even though it wasn't one of the official prayer times, but I heard these were scholars and Imans in  training.

See, words like "amazing" and "fantastic" I have used to much, but only because I can't find other words to express the inside. Such great and still vibrant frescos. Because this is still used as a church.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Spomenik Hunting in Macedonia

While here, one of the things I was dying to do was hunt for "Spomeniks" - translates roughly to national monuments in Serbo-Croat.

I am going to post about each different one when I get home, but first I want to tell you why they mean so very much to me.

They are an odd jumble, but bear with me. When Marshal Tito and his troops defeated the Nazi's, Tito had to figure out how to bring the country together. They were 5 (or 7 depending on your definitions) different "republics" (like our states) in the nation of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia actually means "The Kingdom of the Southern Slavs". 

One way Tito tried to do this was celebrate the sacrifices of the united forces during Nazi occupation and the way they came together as a group. The Spomeniks are scattered throughout old Yugoslavia, and I saw these 4 major ones that are in Macedonia.

Something about this makes me optimistic and wistful. Hopeful about trying to keep a people together, despite their differences.

Ok, it didn't work out for Yugoslavia. 

The United States had the a similar problem after the revolution. New York, Virginia, South Carolina and Massachusetts had even less in common that the Yugoslavian Republics. But we were united under George Washington. And he was smart. George's method to keep the states together was ultimately to turn over power after 2 terms AND he stayed around to show that the country was more important than a person. 

Marshal Tito, for all the good (and bad) he did, didn't do that. When he died, he hadn't prepared for a successor to take over. And the history and rivalries of each "republic"  pulled them apart.

But think about it, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia all have a shared history and language. And they fell apart after Tito's death. In many ways the United States is similar. We all have a shared history and language. We even have the rivalries they had. But George's decision over 200  years ago, set us on the  path to one nationality. 

Can we keep it? At least Tito tried something. We are just tearing ourselves apart. So the Spomeniks to me are a gesture of hope, of equality, and dreams. We couldn't even agree on the designs of  the memorials to Vietnam or WWII.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox, but at least you understand why these mean so much to me.

Macedonia's Flag - Greece Again

Macedonia has had to jump through hoops to be accepted due to Greece's rather parochial sensibilities. As an American, where we usurped the entire continent's name, I understand unbridled patriotism - so I can't really denigrate the Greeks for possess it as well.

I have already explained how Greeks made the country change their name  from Macedonia to North Macedonia to make the Greeks happy.

And the Statue of Alexander the Great had to be renamed "The Warrior" because Greece claims Alexander the Great (and will not accept he had male lovers, but that is another story).

"The Warrior" - but everyone knows it is Alexander

Well they also had to change their flag. There original flags are below, including the current 8 ray sun. The 16 ray sun, their original post-Yugoslavian flag, is called the "Vergina Sun". But the Geek province of Macedonia claimed it, and the national flag was changed. In 2019 touchy Greeks got an agreement that the image of the "Vergina Sun" would not be used in ANY capacity in Macedonia.

Old flag on left, new flag on right. Greeks were majorly offended by the first one.

Once the country changed their flag, Greece still tried to keep them out of NATO - albeit unsuccessfully. Now with the name change, Greece has let them try to get into the EU.

In talking with Macedonians, they are very excited about the EU membership, because the EU requires a lot of democratic and anti-corruption changes. Changes that the people don't think would happen otherwise.

St Cyril and Methodius University

 St. Cyril and Methodius University was built in the same brutalist style as the rest of Skopje. It was designed by Slovene architect Marko Music (only with all the weird characters above his name). It still is in use and it so unique. You drive past it and get glimpses of a stubby ugly building. You have to walk inside the campus to see how each piece interacts with the other.

It may not be beautiful, but it is stunning. I loved it. Apparently you aren't allowed to take pictures, but since school wasn't in session - and I went in a dorm gate, not the front gate with the guard - I was able to take as many as I wanted. I have thinned the number I took down CONSIDERABLY to share.

Above is a statue of St. Cyril and St. Methodious. As you may or may not know, St. Cyril founded the writing style of Cyrillic (the Russian lettering system). They were monks from Byzantium that went on many missions before dying trying to convert the Khazars. It was an ancient and very powerful kingdom in the Caucus Moutains.

If you hate the style, you're in luck. The new Medical and Law schools are going up in that bizarre faux Greek, faux wedding cake style. Luckily they are on the edge of campus, away from these buildings. I get the concrete color is  not everyone's cup of tea. But it would look even more silly painted.


Mixed use dorms and classrooms.

A cool art exhibit in a VERY cool space.

 So this building is an old Turkish Bath, the Duet Pasha Hammam (Hammam is a Turkish bath complex). It is from the 1400s and in 1948 it was turned into the National Art Gallery. Check out some of the pictures of the art, with the old walls and roofs (with an open ceiling to let out hot air).

I saw the art, and expected ... meh. I was wrong. It is featuring a bunch of work by Dimitar Kondovski. He was a Macedonia Painter who changed his style over time. It was really cool. I will post some pictures below. Particularly interesting are his self-portraits over time (as his style changed). 


Middle Age "In the style of the Spanish"

19602 Dimitar

He also did a lot of Byzantine / Mosque modern art and in this setting it was perfect. Pictures of the Hammam walls, roof with art.

These are pictures of Byzantine Art, and cool abstract Mosque picture (see how the image mirrors the roof) and St. John the Baptist - although I would NOT let that guy dunk me!).

I loved how he reinvents the tryptic here in paint and mixed media

John the Baptist here is scary in gold leave and tempura

Past the jump are more that I could not show, but probably annoying over the net.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Staying in old Communist Housing

 In many ways, Skopje stock of housing is still very communist (the locals actually call them "commies" so it isn't offensive). Having stayed in this type of housing in Croatia and Bosnia (Sarajevo) a lot, they don't freak me out anymore. But they would most people the first time.

I am on the top floor of a 7 story building. Now to get up, the elevator works well. And yes, my boss Jen was stuck in one of these type of elevators in Sarajevo for 3 hours, so I know I am taking my life into my hands. But it works fine - up.

But the elevator won't take you down. Press down on floor 7 and the elevator stops on floor 6. Press down on floor 6, and the elevator stops on 7. So fine, I take the stairs. But the stairs in these buildings are very very odd. 

Here is the stairwell. And they are in the middle of the building, so they are always dark. On each floor, there is a rocker switch that turns on the lights for a while. Usually long enough to go down 2 flights. But, sometimes they just switch off and leave you to stumble down in the dark until the next floor.

Like I said, I am pretty used to it, but it would freak a lot of people out!

Also, they appear to have gotten a deal on institutional green paint.

Transformation of Skopje to the "Capital of Kitsch"

Skopje is full of Brutalist Modern buildings. They were put up by the world community after the earthquake in 1963. Rebuilding was overseen by a Japanese Architect which is why the Brutalism has an different look. 

But since independence, a rather odd Prime Minister has been working hard to change the image.  Unfortunately, his image is more faux Greek. Read on for some weirdness. MY tour guide called Skopje the Capital of Kitsch.

Two of the great brutalist buildings (to me) were the old Telecoms building and the Post Office. Here are my pictures. But read on afterwards. (All images are expandable)

This is the Post Office. It is cool, I think.

Another view of the Post Office, with the Telecommunications building in the background.

The Telecoms building now. It has been purposefully hidden by newer buildings. The Prime Minister was kind of ashamed of it.

Side view, again trying to hide it.

The Telecoms building and the (faux Greek) court building.

Now this is where it gets odd as hell. Originally the court building was a rather cool, modernist building with a green façade. But the Prime Minister actually had it converted into this Greek Temple thingy.

But not rebuilt. Instead they just covered it in sheet rock and painted it. And the sheet rock leaks and parts fall off every now and then.

Don't believe me? Look at this image. Ignore the Telecoms building, but look to see how the Greek Temple
was converted from a rather nice modern building.

Yes, that is literally the same building, mid "renovation". The image below is the only one I could find where the building was pre-renovation.

The tale of Chiselborough

 Our second dog sit in England this past month was in Chiselborough. Which is a village of about 100 - 125. It was in the middle of nowhere....