90 Days

We are facing the end of our first 90-day stint here. (Rather than try to apply for a work visa for us (a lengthy & chancy process), The University requested we come on consecutive 90-day tourist entries, which don’t require visas for Americans. That means that in three days, we must be out of the country. We’ll rent a car and try to see some of the Balkans – and you’re invited to join us on the journey. We’ll be back in Skopje the first week of January, in time for the restart of school after the Winter Break. The break is fairly long, because the school (and most people in Skopje) celebrate the Western Christmas (Dec. 25), and the Western New Years (Jan 1) and then the Eastern Christmas and New Years (Jan 7 and Jan 12) Would you believe that here they refused to accepted the 1582 Calendar reform – the Gregorian Calendar – which adjusted dates by 12 days to make up for earlier errors, because it was promulgated by a Roman Pope and they worshiped under an Eastern Patriarch? And they still keep the Church festivals (and local holidays) by the old dates.
It has been a busy and crowded month. We had to pack in make-up classes (we’re leaving one week before the school closes for the break), plus some spectacular festivals. December started with the long-delayed Master’s degree defense by one of my students. He was successful (as expected) so we had to drink whiskey & champagne … and then go teach. It was an interesting class. I started story-telling.Then that night, off we wewnt to the Skopje Synagogue for the lighting of the first candle of Chanukkah (Hanukah.) The Jewish population of Skopje is ancient – dating to the Spanish expulsion of Jews, most of whom took refuge in the Ottoman Empire (including Skopje) and are called Sephardic Jews. They had a beautiful synagogue,and played an important role in the country. In WWII, the Hitler-allied Bulgarians occupied Macedonia, and all but wiped out the Jewish population (about 20 survived). About 20 years ago, survivors and their families started to return, and they built a new Synagogue & cultural center (the abandoned synagogue was destroyed in an earthquake) with help from the Macedonian government. There are now about 200 in Skopje. For this Chanukkah, most of the survivors still alive returned, and we had people from the govt, the Islamic Center, the Catholic Bishop, Orthodox officials, other Christian churches,several Embassies, and friends join toight the first candle & eat home-made goodies. The place was packed.
Then on the 4th, we were off to the German Embassy to drink Gluwien (hot mulled wine), eat Bratwurst, and buy goodies. We then celebrated with a 2 1/2 hour video phone call (using Skype, so its free) with Jennifer, Margaret, & Deirdre. Juggling time-zones to find when we could all talk was…interesting.
On the 6th, David started a 3-day graduate seminar on Business Ethics, co-taught with Clarisse, and with 22 students. It was a huge effort, but ultimately successful. Another crisis – the middle day was declared a holiday (with 2 days’notice), but we declared it a seminar day anyway. Only difficulty was the person supposed to open the school at 5:00 forgot, so we got in 45 minutes late, but carried on. Heinz & Silvana showed up during this time, but we managed a lunch to begin to plan out trip. When the seminar ended, we celebrated with a concert with Clarisse – in the fairgrounds because nowhere else was big enough – the London Philharmonic + Macedonia’s most famous music export, Pianist Simon Trpceski, and a massive sellout crowd. By this time, Skopje had decided it was winter – freezing temperatures, snow & freezing rain. We stood in that forever trying to get a taxi home.
The next day, Dec. 11, was the 45Th Annual McGaffey Carolling Party – Make a Joyful Noise.

David organizing eggnog in our tiny kitchen

Only about 20 people made it through the weather,with many unsure what to expect, but they loved the idea.

Folks from the QSI School

They sang and sang; we brought out the Cossack Stew and they still

Side entertainment from the children

sang, we finished the eggnog and they continued to sing, and then we had to throw them out because we were going to our first Macedonian Wedding!

David leads the singing

Carolers from UACS

Our primary contact at UACS, Victoria Gombar, was getting married at the

In Sacred Heart Cathedral

Catholic Cathedral, and we were required to be there. (She had started attending our English-language services on Sundays, and said the marriage wouldn’t be official without us.)

Lovely church, handsome groom, a bride who had been made-up & hair-dressed and dressed all day, but who still superficially resembled our Victoria, and a rousing sermon about something like,”Marriage is hard work”

Elegant Victoria in her gown and fur jacket

(Our Macedonian is still very weak.)
Then off to the fanciest restaurant in town, where we were seating at a table groaning with Macedonian appetisers. It was hard, after a full meal of Cossack Stew, but we emptied the table. We refused, however, to go to the buffet, where steak & fish & poultry & & & awaited. During all this, the bride’s parents kept plying us with Rakia & whisky & Wine. When we were about ready to fall under the table, we left (about midnight). We

One of the buffet tables

reportedly missed the best part of the reception – when the dancing girls showed up! Maybe next wedding we can stay awake.

We had to get up the next morning for the Christmas Art & Caraft Festival, where we ate goodies, met friends, and bought goodies. – before running off for our last Communion Service this year. Not a major problem – turns out most of the worshipers are leaving for Christmas as well.
Mon & Tuesday were spent finalizing things at school, then we were free!!! We rented a Chevy Spark from a local agency (Euro 17/day with insurance, green card for all the Balkans, snow tires, emergency kit, chains & all extras.Then – following Heinz & Silvana – we took off for the Serbian border, with nothing to do for three weeks but explore, eat & (hopefully) get an occasional nap. After those last two weeks, we feel we have earned both vacation and nap.
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