April 13, 2009

New and Old

Everything old is new again.

Here's Jillian on Saturday. It was a beautiful day and spring has truly arrived. This picture seemed the perfect way to talk about our town for a bit:

#1--That's the river that runs through our town, the Kriva. It means "windy" or "bendy", but if a person is kriva, then they're "guilty". We know this word very well, since it's one of Safet's favorites. "I'm not guilty," he's fond of saying, his generic cop-out for any problem that may arise, including, but not limited to, the children wrestling, the parents complaining, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the fact that I still do not have an orangutan butler.

Just a few days before I took this picture we received roughly 10 inches of snow and the mountains got even more. Then those ol' Chinook winds blew through the valley and it was suddenly spring and 60 degrees and that snow became water. Though it's hard to tell from the picture, the Kriva is raging. Normally a sedate river that would be perfect for something called Lazee Daze Intertube Park were it not for the trash-strewn embankment, the Kriva is running fast and maybe threatening to take down some of the hand-made foot bridges that criss-cross town like the stitch work of a blind doctor. Speaking of which...

#2--Jillian's standing on one of those bridges. It has a railing on only one side and it lists slightly in the other direction. Still, it's brand new and feels a lot sturdier than the next bridge down, about a quarter of a mile. That bridge is straight out of The Temple of Doom, complete with the missing boards where Short Round's foot went through.

#3--This particular bridge was built to provide a direct route across the river to the market. The view is mostly blocked by those cars and the fence, but take my word for it: the place is packed. The market has itself a little winter snooze when just about the only things you can find there are potatoes, potatoes, eggs, and potatoes. Macedonia's produce goes dormant for a couple of months and then suddenly comes back all at once.

People from the nearby villages arrive early to claim their stands and booths; the latecomers settle for laying their things out on a tarp or blanket. Talk about fresh: most of these farmers rise at dawn, literally pull the spinach and lettuce and carrots from the ground, load them up in the old Zastava, and drive into town for the market. There's plenty of fruit, too, including apples, pears and, later, more watermelon than at a minstrel show.

#4--Even by the time I've written this most of that snow on the hillside has vanished and there's even some trees starting to blossom. Unfortunately for me this means seasonal allergies, which I only started experiencing a few years ago. Itchy eyes and sneezing, mostly. A teacher at school asked me if I had anything for it. No, but I'll buy some, I replied. No need! She assured me that her family has a wonderful onion tea that they drink to keep away the allergies. She'll bring me some. Just to be sure, I checked: Benadryl is not made from onions.

Everything new looks old again.

I was talking to my doctor down at the hospital/
He said, "Son, it says here you're 27, but that's impossible/
You look like you could be 45"

That quote comes from an old Jackson Browne song about a certain, er, recreational drug, but he could very well have been singing about eastern Europe, both its people and buildings. Communist-era architecture was not exactly known for its quality, but I'm sorry to report that, at least in our town, the shodiness lives on. The major supermarket in town laid down its entranceway steps with what were clearly indoor tiles; a month later they were breaking off in pieces. A road was paved just around the corner from us and the Tetris-like chunks of cement, meant to fit together to create the curb, were put in all the wrong places; the curb has since completely crumbled.

These are two small examples of why so many buildings around here appear a lot older than their actual age. Meanwhile, there are a number of small homes built during the years of Turkish occupation--over 100 years ago--that remain standing and lived in.

And it's not just the buildings worn beyond their years. I'm normally pretty lousy at guessing people's ages and in Macedonia I'm a total waste. Years of grueling work, few days off, poor diets,heavy drinking and smoking or some combination of all of those things have made for an adult population that, well, just looks old. One of our neighbors is 32. I was shocked to hear that number. Equally true for a man we see around from time to time. Early 50s? You've gotta be kidding me. I would have put him at 70.

But who am I kidding? We come from a culture where it's not good enough to look your age; people actively try to look younger and there's entire industries built upon that effort. To the developing and undeveloped world that might sound like a sick joke. Occasionally I see Avon pamphlets laying around in offices and I'm not sure whether to feel a bit revolted that this part of Americana has seeped in or whether to say, "Hey, good for you, if it makes you feel better. Isn't that why we do it?"

Spring has just arrived, so I'll go with the latter sentiment.

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