Showing posts from June, 2003

moses and monty python

All credit to Moses. Nowadays Mount Sinai is a straightforward two-hour hike up a well-worn trail, but three millennia ago it must have been absolute murder. I was expecting a mob of people and was amazed to find myself absolutely alone at the summit for sunset. Amazed and grateful. Standing atop a fantasyland of jagged, pitted, striated crags and canyons, eroded by the wind into twisted coiled dragon-shapes, stained by the last crimson rays of the sun, on the very mountain where Moses, so legend has it, received the Ten Commandments -- a magical moment. I suppose I can't in good conscience leave you with the notion that I have become lone-wolf-in-the-wilderness Intrepid Man. I wasn't that alone. Not far below the summit are a half-dozen Bedouin huts/shops providing tea, Coke, chocolate, and mattress/blanket rental; two more overnighters showed up shortly after sunset; and just before dawn an Italian tour-group horde arrived. But still. In the middle of the night, unless all t

burn the bridges

"dude, that town is fucked up ." Sarajevo is battle-scarred. Mostar is gutted. There has been enough reconstruction that it isn't obvious at first. Stand on one of the hardly-used bridges, above the steep and beautiful ravine atop which the city perches, and it looks postcard-pretty. If you look closer you notice it's too pretty. All the buildings are new. Go a block to the west and you step into a war zone. This is where the front line was. Rows of half-collapsed heaps of gray concrete and brick, torn open by ragged misshapen gaps like Godzilla took bites out of them, punched full of bullet holes, many of them roofless, covered with dust, full of rubble and trash. Chimneys and random jagged spurs that happened to survive the tank and shellfire jut out like broken bones. Don't get me wrong. This is not a dead city. The streets are lined with parked cars, bright billboards are posted right in front of the wrecks, and every second or third lot boasts a brightly pain

Balkanization: II

The discreet charm of the Kosovarese Parts of Kosovo are very pretty. It was exhilirating, even after an exhausting 11-hour bus ride through the Albanian outback, riding through watching dawn rise above its green misty rolling hills. Unfortunately the pretty parts do not include the towns. And definitely not the hotels. I checked into the Stalinist-concrete-block Hotel Iliria, whose terrifyingly pallid receptionist had obviously gone to Gulag charm school, and discovered that my room's "ensuite bathroom" was a cube of rotting concrete featuring a sink, a shower head, a towel ring, and a hole in the floor (to be fair the rest of the room was reasonable). And then I went down and ate breakfast with 200 Bangladeshi peacekeepers. I guess NATO-UN territories tend to have more than their share of Luis Bunuel moments. Kosovars love three things: cigarettes, ice cream, and the Internet. In a town of 150,000 there must be at least 100 establishments vending each of the latter tw

Balkanization: I

Ancient Roman ampitheatre in Durres, Albania. Athens: an elaborate hoax? Athens. Cradle of civilization, where 2500 years ago the ancient Greeks invented democracy, philosophy, and the Olympics. Or did they? I ask you: where's the proof? Yeah, yeah, I know: "the proof's all around you! The Acropolis! The Parthenon! The Temple Of Zeus! The Olympic Stadium!" Uh-huh. I seen 'em. The Acropolis is a construction site, the Parthenon and Temple Of Zeus are covered in scaffolding, and the Olympic Stadium is flanked by a pair of enormous construction cranes. It really makes you wonder. Athens itself is a nice place, a bit of a dive, but I like dives. The Greeks very sensibly herd the vast majority of tourists into a warren of shops and cafes just below the Acropolis. The entire rest of the city is under destruction for next year's Olympiad, and the streets are labyrinthine, but fortunately it's a good place to get lost in. I like the way that glitzy shopping areas