This and That: an Education

Before I become completely accustomed to life in Skopje, I should talk about a few differences.  Some things that seemed strange when we first came are now completely natural.  So before I forget that they are not what I would have been doing in Alameda, let me mention them.  It seems normal to grab the bag of garbage as I go out of the house for

Recycler searching

the day and to dump it in one of the three nearby dumpsters.  Which one depends on which direction I’m going–they are very convenient.  It also seems normal to find a young person with a yard-square basket on a bicycle or motorcycle going through the garbage to pick out recyclables and other useful stuff.  I never put anything that could be used into a bag but lay it carefully on top of the dumpster for inspection. Sometimes there’s an even bigger high-walled cart pulled by a horse, often with a whole family in it, picking up furniture, appliances, mattresses and the like. After all, we in Alameda may just have caught on to recycling, but here it’s always been a way of life.

When Silvana and I were in the Turkish bazaar  (across the river on the north side of the city),

Shredded tobacco

I saw what looked like shredded wheat biscuits about the size of a piece of typing paper (since they were piled in boxes from copy paper, they were, in fact, exactly A4 size).  And men were looking at them and pickup up bits and smelling them.  I finally realized that I

Shopping for tobacco

was seeing home-grown and home-cured tobacco.  And sure enough, the store in the corner of the covered bazaar right next to the tobacco was selling wrapping papers, water pipes, and even hand controlled machines for rolling cigarettes. (Made us homesick for Berkeley.)

Loose tobacco too

Oh, and we keep hearing the calls of wandering (??? Vendors? Repairmen? Tinkers? Buyers? Knife Sharpeners???) but we’ve never caught one in the act, so we aren’t sure what they are calling, but the carrying, repetitive calls are distinctive.

And in our apartment, I’ve learned that the bathroom sink has the hot water on the right and the cold on the left, although the shower and the kitchen sink have them arranged normally.  The sink in the other bathroom has only one faucet which drips cold, red water regularly.  Actually, the water’s stopped being so red that it stained the sink below it now that it runs in a thin stream constantly rather than dripping intermittently.  Some days later: now there’s more to this story.  The amount of water running continued to increase so that the floor and the towel were soaked.  We called the landlord three times and he kept promising to get a plumber to fix it.  Finally, he showed up with the plumber and they did stop the faucet from running.  Then he admitted that he wished he’d done it earlier because his bathroom just below ours was streaming water through the light fixture.  Fortunately, we don’t know how to say I told you so in Macedonian.  Oh, and that new faucet turns on to the left and off to the right.

Bedding is a continual fascination. Here the available bottom bed sheets are all knitted.  But at least they’re 100% cotton.  The top sheets that came with the apartment are neither flat nor cotton–they’re crinkled and scratchy 100% polyester.  They are actually quilt covers, and since our “double bed” frame encloses two single mattresses, we had two quilt covers, not actually large enough to fit the two quilts that we have. So I sewed the two “sheets” together and they more or less cover the bed.  The double bed size available in the local stores is, anyway, not wide enough for a double bed.  Well, actually they are exactly the same width as the bed, so if you didn’t insist on getting under them, making a three dimensional lump, they would fit perfectly.  So when we went out for our Christmas trip, we kept our eyes open for regular cotton sheets.  Not available in the Balkans.  Oh, but then we went to Thessaloniki to the IKEA there.  Same kind of sheets but 100% cotton.  So we bought two sets (quilt cover and 2 pillowcases) and when we came back, we got a highly recommended tailor to sew the quilt covers into one large sheet.  So we have a generous sheet side to side, although the top to bottom size just exactly covers the bed.  Better than before. At any rate, now we’re still using one polyester set but every other week we have cotton muslin sheets.  Am I looking forward to 100% cotton percale sheets?  You bet!

On the good side of the ledger, the supermarkets have fabulous bargains available with

Heavy Italian Stainless

coupons.  We got a 8 settings of heavy Italian silverware for 800 denars.  That’s under $20.  They’re much better than the plastic-handled ones that came with the house.  And we got several pots for half price and a small blender.  We’re now giving the coupons to our cleaning lady, but if I were a newlywed trying to furnish a house, I’d find the current special of half price stainless steel pots a real temptation.  None of this will come home with us of course, but we couldn’t cook with the pots that came with the house.  Well, to be honest there are two stainless steel ones that are excellent, but the frying pans were formerly Teflon with aluminum showing through, so I didn’t think they were safe to cook in.  And the pots were deep burned brown inside and out.  The enamel wasn’t cracked tho, so we’re using those.  Yes, we are cooking full meals, and yes, sometimes most of the pots are used for one meal.  Of course, the pretty ones we bought are mostly used for serving–they’re metal but like Corningware and work best in an oven.  Any oven, just not ours.  It has no stop so when you turn it on it heats and the longer it’s on the hotter it gets.  Once, not paying attention, I put the large fancy pot in and the oven melted the attractive green plastic around the handle.  Smelled awful too.

And now it’s spring and all sorts of new things are appearing.  The tallest trees in each area are full of crows’ nests.  The biggest group has 13 nests in three trees, but there are

Shopping Time

A Murder of Crows

Family Photo

several others as well with 5-7 nests.  And yes, they are in the highest branches of their trees.  And the apartment complex we walk through (where there must be a military office or military housing because people in uniform are always going in and out) is surrounded by cherry trees, now in full flower.

Cherry Trees

And we pass a couple of flowering quince

Flowering Quince

(which I recognize because we had one in the yard on Prospect Street.  Then yesterday I took a different way home (instead of the paths inside the apartment complexes, I went out on the main street Vasco Karangelevski).  It is, by the way, main enough that it actually has wide sidewalks—bordered by a continuous row of forsythia.


The fields are filling with purple flowers and little white daisy things and tiny blue 4-petaled flowers fill in the spaces if you look carefully. There is also birdsong (and crow squawk) everywhere.  The trees are full of birds of all kinds so some of them have to walk around in the flowery fields.

Mockingbird, I think

We bought a gillyflower (I think) a month ago, but it died on replanting.  Saturday before last we got daffodils but wanted something that would last.  So now we have an orange impatiens on the table, and it seems to be doing well—it’s in continuous flower at least.  And we are living with our French doors wide open—up in our elegant penthouse.  I hope winter doesn’t come back at all.

So today we went for a walk and saw flowering almonds as well.  Our entire street is lined with trees, and now all of them are showing at least a haze of green.  We walked to another shopping center (just to have a destination).  However, we found there the large version of our 3-D map of Macedonia, which now graces our bedroom wall. Better for me—I don’t have to put my glasses on to see the names of smaller places.

At night out our window to the southwest we can see the mountains south of us, and a large village/section of Skopje climbing up them. Behind them, we can see snow-capped mountains which are obviously much taller. Almost directly west is the highest mountain in

The Cross

the immediate vicinity of Skopje with a huge cross on top of it.  This would be a great symbol of Christianity, but apparently it was put up mainly to annoy the Muslims.  So it is an unchristian Christian symbol to say the least.  It’s possible to climb up there but we probably won’t.  David’s leg makes a great excuse, but I have no desire to visit it.

I should mention the cars too.  There are the usual brands (Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Hyundai) in the newer cars, but the majority are European brands (Peugeot, VW, Citroen).  Then there’s a large number of Zvastavas, Lados, Yugos, Dacias, and other brands I had never heard of.  The Dacias are still being made in Romania, as I see from the billboards advertising the new ones.  But the Yugos all look at least 20 years old and they keep chugging along.  It’s almost like Kabul—nothing can be let go to waste because there might not be a replacement for it.  There’s a repair shop in the basement of the apartment next to us.  Yesterday the mechanics were in deep consultations over a couple of bright yellow Minis that have been parked there all winter.  I think they are trying to make one running car out of the two.  We’ll see if one actually leaves the lot.  BTW these are Minis, not Mini-Coopers, although I think they are the same make because they look similar, but smaller, than the current Mini-Cooper.

The best part of it is that it’s now lovely to walk out of the house.  I’m making excuses to go to our nearby green market—it’s nice to have fresh fruit and veg, but it’s even nicer to get out into the sweet-smelling air.  I’m told we should stay here through the summer if we really want to see fruits and vegetables, but we’ll be shopping at the Alameda Farmers’ Market again by that time.

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