The FAST Conference Week

Where to begin—it was a full and interesting week.  Monday was getting to know the city day.  Emily took us down to the main square where we were meeting several people for lunch.  But first we saw the

We're blocking the view

We're blocking the view

Stone Bridge (so old that it meets the land two feet below the current level) and its art works.  I should say that Skopje is full of street art.  Statues, arrangements, decorations—everywhere you look.  We went on a wild search for a Palm battery because David’s Palm picked this time to die completely.  It was bootable first and then not, so we think it’s the battery.  But no luck.  Can you imagine David keeping a paper list of where he needs to be?  It’s a little insane and starting this week he won’t have me with him.  But on the bright side, he’ll only be in one university, so it should make it easier.  And just for fun Emily and I tried on some coats too in one of the stores.

And then it was time for lunch at another fabulous local restaurant.  This time we were all foreigners—Clarisse, Emily, and Victor

Clarisse and David

Clarisse and David

Friedman met us there—so we were clever and just did the salad bar.  Not that it was a light meal.  Besides salads, there were stuffed eggplants, yoghurt, bread, hummos, several kinds of cheese, etc., etc.  Then we had pancakes for dessert (the only way to have dessert is not to eat the main course—an important coping lesson to have learned)  They are large crepes, really, filled with chocolate or cream or nuts or fruit.  Delicious, but then everything is.  Victor is a linguistic anthropologist (my characterization—I forget what he said).   He studies the language to discover where the people come from.  The best part of the table conversation was his educating me on the fact that there was a pre-Slavic Macedonian language that barely survives.  But you had to be there, sitting in a sunny window, drinking local wine, and nibbling on wonderful tasting food.  Afterward, we learned that we were only a 15 minute walk from home.  Of course it took us longer because it’s up a shopping street, but eventually we got there.  After very little work, we had a snack of very thick yoghurt with thick green honey and crashed.  No problem getting to sleep here—and it no longer can be blamed on jet lag.

Tuesday

After a morning of administrivia and an afternoon of interesting presentations on the value of studying abroad, we headed for the Museum of Macedonia via the older part of the city with Emily as our guide.  We got to the area early, and Emily knew of a caravan serai where the stables had been turned into a restaurant.

Some of the decorations

Some of the decorations

The tea was delicious

Elizabeth and Emily

The pictures give only a faint flavor of the barrel-vaulted brick rooms filled with antiques.

After tea, we headed to the Museum for the opening reception of the FAST  conference.  The reception was sponsored by SEAVUS, a Macedonian technology company with one foot in Skopje and the other in Maine.  We had a tour of the Museum

Prehistoric Dancer

Prehistoric Dancer

and then a wine tasting with snacks.  The conferees had arrived from all over the world: Romania, Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, of course, plus Austria, Russia, Israel, Chile, United States, Jordon, Singapore, Poland, and Kazakhstan.

Wednesday

This was the “serious conference day” at FON University.  I (Elizabeth) skipped out on the morning presentations to go to the American Ambassador’s International Wives Coffee.  It was delightful.  Still more interesting people to meet, most of whom have lived in Skopje for several years.  So I picked up a few more tips.  But meeting women who have lived and worked in this part of the world was to hear foreign service stories from a new perspective.  I should have taken some photos of the beautifully decorated house, but I was too fascinated listening to even think of it.  I did meet the IMF representative’s wife, and we decided our husbands had to meet (especially since David has been asking everyone economic questions that they can’t answer).

Then Emily took me back to the conference to have lunch.  FON has a wonderful sky high lunch room overlooking the city.  And they supplied every possible salad plus several hot dishes, and two warm fruit desserts to die for.  Again good conversations—it was interesting that many of the participants were women who held complex portfolios at home.  They had so many insights to share on how to implement the new ideas that they brought back from their Fulbright experiences.  I realize that “soft diplomacy” is becoming a watchword of the Obama administration, and I was certainly getting an education in that field as the conferees explained how they had persuaded their ministries or universities to try something new.

The conference continued in the afternoon.  David presented his (brilliant, of course) ideas on the value and impact of globalization on economic development as Macedonia is developing its economy.  Since others had presented the downside of globalization, there was a lively discussion.

At the Art Exhibit

At the Art Exhibit

Afterward a group of us went to see an art exhibit sponsored

by the Swiss Embassy.  Naturally, that smaller group got to be the people we spent most time with.

Thursday

At 7:45 a.m. we were at the Ramstore taxi rank to get a taxi to a place we’d never been.  Talk about not being functional that early!  And then the taxi driver understood that we wanted to go the Cyril and Methodius University (the government university) but he didn’t know where it was.  We finally woke up enough to realize that we’d been told the University is all over the city.  We needed to go to the Engineering Faculty.  Once we said that, we were off at full speed.  Luckily we were going against rush hour traffic.  Route 880 has nothing on the streets here—there are two one-way streets going into the center and out.  The in direction is 4 lanes, but the out is only 2.  The cars park on the sidewalk, but still it is narrow.  That was the way we went, but everyone else was heading in, so we got there in 15 minutes.  The bus was waiting—very comfortable, with seat belts even.  So we got on board.  Oh, yes, I should tell you that we were on a three-hour drive to Ohrid, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Bus to Ohrid

Bus to Ohrid

We stopped at SEEU, another university that serves the area west of Skopje.  Few students about because it’s midterm week.  But again there was street art everywhere.

Wire Art over Books

Wire Art over Books

I slipped out to walk around, but David and the serious people had a presentation.  Then on toward Ohrid.

We stopped at a tiny roadside café for coffee and homemade pastries.  Everything here seems to be homemade, and I haven’t had any food that was less than fabulous.

***************************************************************
David woke up—break for dinner.  We went to Dal Fufo and had pasta after salad and before dessert (me: chocolate ice cream; David: fresh fruit served with a pitcher of chocolate sauce) and coffee.  So now I should be awake enough to continue.

**************************************************************

Finally, we arrived at Ohrid.  We were scheduled for a 3 p.m. reception at the Culinary Institute, an Austrian program in the local high school.  So we took off for a rapid, 90 minute tour.

16th Century Sycamore

16th Century Sycamore

From the ancient sycamore (or actually, the remnant of the sycamore.   The top is totally missing, the trunk is split and covered with insulation – but bits peek out, so you can see it is still alive) in the town square we started uphill past all sorts of little stores.  They looked interesting, but no time to stop.

Roman Theater

Roman Theater

A paper-making factory still operating from the 14th century, street scenes, churches and schools and magnificent views of the lake through the branches of flowering cherry trees.  Ohrid is a hill-side city on the shores of a magnificent alpine lake surrounded by snow-covered mountains – a little like Lake Tahoe in the Sierras, except larger and soaked in history. The high point was a lovely medieval Basilica (St. Clement)

St. Clement's Church and the Dig

St. Clement's Church and the Dig

which was in the center of an archeological dig – they were in the process of discovering the original 4th century basilica which the ‘modern’ (11th-14th cent) church replaced.  It’s an amazing site and well worth a longer wander than we had time for.  After not buying some Ohrid pearls (freshwater and larger than any of those that I’d seen before) we turned downhill toward our reception.  Turned out it was at the other end of town which gave us the chance to walk along the lake.

Wildfowl at the edge of Lake Ohrid

Wildfowl at the edge of Lake Ohrid

The weather was perfect, though a little chilly, and the lake with the snow-covered mountains behind it, was beautiful.

Finally we arrived at the school, met the director, the teacher, and the cooks, and treated to a bountiful buffet of cocktail nibbles.  Sweets too—one was a slice of a roll made with fig pulp and crunchy sugar.  I’d like to get some of that to bring home.

Then we had 45 minutes in the market.

In the Ohrid market

In the Ohrid market

We headed directly to the only place that was selling handicrafts.  Couldn’t afford anything in the clothing line, although the embroidery was fantastic and all the vests were made of handwoven cloth.  But the owner was selling items her family makes from honey and beeswax.  The honey with pollen and royal jelly is supposed to help with allergies to Macedonia.  We bought some in the hope that it also helps with tobacco smoke.  And she gave me a sample of lip balm that works better than Carmex here.  When we go back to Ohrid, I’ll get a larger container.  But then it was back to the bus, the road home, and an adventure.  (Note: an adventure is something that is scary and uncomfortable at the time but makes a great story in retrospect.)

So we stopped at the same roadside restaurant and I (Elizabeth) chose to go to the ladies’ too late in the brief stop.  When I came out, all the patrons started waving and yelling that the bus had gone without me.  Oops.  Fortunately, Heinz had loaned us phones, so I called David.  He’d gotten on the bus and gone to sleep.  When it started moving he looked for me and had just woken up to the fact that I wasn’t there.  Great consternation, apparently.  They said they’d turn the bus around, but this mountain road was only about 1-1/2 lanes wide with rocks on one side and nothing on the other.  They soon realized that they’d have to go to Tetovo (SEEU) before the road widened out.  So they called me (I was waiting outside so as not to inconvenience them further and was just about to freeze to death—it got very cold when the sun went down) and told me to give the phone to the owner.  After some confusion, I found the owner who listened to the phone for a bit and told me, in Macedonian, that he would drive me.  So we got into his sporty car, radio playing marvelous Macedonian music, and zipped along the road passing everything in sight until we came to the bus.  I got on board to loud cheers, and off we went.  Finally got home about 10:30 and collapsed.

Friday

The last day of the conference—we went for a wrap-up session to the Engineering Faculty of C&M.  Hey, we’d been there before so we found it easily.  Then a fantastic tour of what they are doing including video graphics, designing commercial products

Car designed at SEEU

Car that won the contest

including cars, efficient electrical items, tools and dies, and so on.   Since they have all the latest equipment, in addition to students, people from companies arrange to work in their labs as well.  It seems a very useful way to get the technology out into the hands of people who need it.  They also run classes on starting a business and many of their students have done so.  The little sports car chassis they designed certainly appealed to me.  It won a contest held by the manufacturers—some of the other entrants were truly spectacular if impractical.  One had doors that were hinged just next to the hood so when they opened, they were great wings making the car look about 15 feet wide.  Dramatic, tho.

Then we asked one of the conferees where to go for lunch.  His suggestion was the Nacional downstairs.  Another of those brick basements and very popular.  We were 7 people and all had something different.

Al and The National Tower

Al and The National Tower

Among the choices were the national dish, the national potter, and the national tower.  I had the dish, which was a stew and, of course, very tasty.  The potter was another stew in a clay pot and the tower was all meat.  We walked in to the restaurant at 2 p.m. and left at 4:30—a respectable time for eating lunch.

We went home for a short rest and then met the same group plus a few others for a Verdi opera “Nabucco.”  I wish I’d looked at Wikipedia before I went—didn’t have a clue about what was going on.  The singing was in Italian and they had a translation flashed up on the sides of the stage—in Macedonian, of course.  But it was beautifully done.  Apparently, the soprano is a voice-destroyer and many famous sopranos refuse to sing it.  This presentation had someone who could reach all the notes.  It was amazing.  (Grumpy David says all the energy was spent on music & singing – the ACTING was either absent or wooden. If they had learned how to act, the meaning would have been much clearer.) Even without knowing what was going on, the music was beautiful.  And for a bonus there was a art show in the lobby—we even liked a significant number of the paintings.  And then the walk home back over the Stone Bridge.  And so to sleep.

Saturday

We got up late and went to the Nova High School( local international school) fundraising fair and International

Nova High School Bazaaar

Nova High School Bazaaar

Food Court.  I bought a necklace and David got three handmade butterfly cards that we are using to decorate our wall in the livingroom and a handmade coffee cup.  We didn’t win any prizes with our lottery tickets, but David met the IMF man who was also there with his wife.  Then we had a good Lebanese lunch and taxi’d home.  Got to the apartment and David’s keycase was not in his pocket.  Oh, good, an adventure!  We called Emily, whom we’d just left at the fair so she could get in touch with our landlord.  David went out to where we’d gotten out of the taxi (we never try to get all the way home—it’s just too complicated) but the keys weren’t there.  When he came back, he found the taxi receipt and gave Emily the info.  It was very helpful, giving the company and its phone number, the number of the cab, the number of the trip—everything you would need to know to find something you’d left in a cab.  Well, when the landlord showed up (with two new keys—one for each of us) he called and learned that the cab driver had been calling his office to try to figure out how to find us.  So he came to the apartment and delivered the keycase.  David gave him a small reward and he didn’t even want to take it.  All’s well that ends well, and now I have a key as well.

We thought that we wouldn’t be hungry, but after the adventure, we were both starving.  So off we went to the mall and had two lovely dinners—mine Mexican and David’s souvlaki mi pita that he commissioned from the ingredients in the stall.

Sunday

Church, of course, but then we had nothing planned.  David worked on organizing papers for the coming week’s talks and classes.  Elizabeth tried to get through the weekend IHT and remembered again that it’s really the NY Times except with comics.    And so we get to now.

I should say something about this apartment.  It’s absolutely brand new and all decorated in shades of sand and orange.  Could anything be better for me?  We have a full kitchen with an electric stove, a combined living & dining room, cable TV, a washing machine in the bathroom, a bedroom, and a spare room which we’re using to dry clothes until Spring really arrives.  There’s electric heat, skylights in the living and bathrooms—it’s really a wonderful place  to live.  We even have a fridge magnet so we were able to put the calendar up.  We don’t have hot water in the kitchen—the place is so new that the instant water heater hasn’t yet been hooked up.  But the landlord promises it will be done next week.  The bedroom has floor to ceiling cabinets with some shelves and some hanging space, and there’s a coat cabinet in the front hall as well.  Oh, and I should mention the best part, tho we haven’t used it yet:  there’s a large patio off the livingroom and it comes with a table and chairs and views of snow-covered mountains on all sides.  We are looking forward to the Spring that everyone tells us should already be here.

from-our-lr

From our patio

ouraptsinthepinkbldg

Our street

So that’s this week.

This entry was posted in Macedonia, Spring 2009, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.