monday - wee hours
lets see... what time is it?. it's 10pm at home. 4am the next day where i'm headed. guess i should try to sleep. i wonder what time it is where we are now, or even where we are? 4.5 hours of flying to go.
looks like we are now cruising over the irish sea, at 6am frankfort time. so we have maybe a couple more hours before landing. they have turned the cabin lights on and are starting to dispense liquids and breakfasty type food substances.
i fell asleep with my head at an odd angle, and my neck and back are not amused.
there's a certain insanity at work here.
we landed in frankfort airport (the ID tags all say "FRAPORT") bright and early. there weren't many people in the airport at that time, except for one exceedingly long line.
"that is for the plane going to america at noon," my uncle said. he supervises security for a shift at the airport. apparently the US has insisted on triple security - you have to go through three checkpoints, each one asking for boarding pass and passport, and running your carryon through the x-ray machine, and walking
you through the scanner. at the last checkpoint, everyone (yes, everyone) gets thoroughly (yes, thoroughly) wanded by a person of the same sex. to top it off, there's a rule - while a terminal is being used to process and board any plane bound for america, it is not allowed to be used for any other flight. so if you happen
to be going to skopje shortly thereafter, you have to wait in the hallway until the US bound plane has left before you are allowed in.
as a result, they are currently building a separate airport for US bound planes, so that it stops disrupting travel to the rest of the world.
snapshots of germany:
my uncle speaks very bitterly about the state of the airport. he blames some of it on the laziness of the workers ("see, all this?" he kicks at litter strewn in the hallway. "this is not right. you see them over there - there are six of them there, and one is working and the other five are watching. instead, they should each have his own hallway"), some of it on the new bidding rules ("this escalator ist kaput 2 months ago, but now we must get bids from whole of EU, and so we must we must now walk"), and some of it on the current economic situation ("before was everybody getting good pay and all medical and pension. now they are working 6 or 7 euros for an hour. how can you have children with that money? why should they work hard, if they are not getting paid?")
i remember germany as being spotless. it was a matter of pride. they didn't make messes, and any messes that were made got cleaned up. instead, there's ashtrays with a week's worth of cigarette butts in and around them, litter on the streets, and sidewalks, and hallways.
we left the airport in johann's 19 year old mercedes (which ran as smoothly and quietly as a new car) and headed to nierstein, a little village on the rhine. the principle mode of life in nierstein is the winery. my dad's cousins' almut and helga live there, and we'd been trying to get ahold of them, but no luck. they appear to be out of town. we stopped at the house, though - the house they own used to belong to albert schweitzer, and is a huge building. they fixed it up and are now renting out apartments out of the building.
we wandered around neirstein for a while. this town is one of the oldest in germany, dating back some 1500 years, and some of the residential houses dating back a thousand years. the streets wind haphazardly through the town, intersecting at odd angles, twisting in upon themselves. the streets are about exactly big enough to
a small truck through, even though they are two way streets. if two cars are coming down the street, one pulls onto the sidewalk, or backs out, if there is no sidewalk, and lets the other through.
would never work in the US. we don't like to wait. we'd have to establish some obscene system of one way streets to get past the problem.
after we'd walked a while, 9am rolled around and we saw some people moving around tubs of fermenting grapes. len swidler, my dad's collegue on the trip, saw a sign offering 2.5 hour tours and winetasting sessions and said "if we had time, it would have been really interesting to go on one of these."
"i vill see," said my uncle, and walked into the nearest winery. of course, none of these guys is open for tours/etc. but he started talking to the guy, introduced us as his relatives visiting from america on our way to macedonia, and so on, and then suddenly the guy says "ah, ja, ich weisse die almut!" and then we got glasses of wine, and an explanation of some of the processes, and a tour of the cellars (all different kinds of casks for different typesof wines). the wine they work on around now is something called "federweisen" or some such thing. it's a very fresh wine, still fermenting, so it has a lot of the original sugars and fizzes in your mouth. very tasty, and i imagine has a hell of a hangover to match the sugar content.
almut's mother died in 2002. we visited the grave. she was buried with her husband (i'm guessing that she had his body moved from yugoslavia?). he was killed in 1945, after the war. he was killed for being a nazi sympathizer. his wife says that he was never a nazi, but he was involved in promoting german culture. "this is the great irony of my family," my father said, "one half of it was killed by the nazis and the other half was implicated with the nazis."
we just passed the whispy tufts of cumulus clouds, cotton balls against the green earth. in the distance there are a lot more of these; i think we're in for some weather in macedonia. i watch as forests, old towns with narrow, twisting roads, fields and farms slip away. there's a nice aerial view of a quarry. now a second layer of clouds: thicker, denser, a wall of fog that obscures the ground below. over time, these resolve into a carpet of cotton batting.
this is a small plane; only 18 rows of seats for the whole thing, and i'm all the way in the back. somehow, i got put in seat A and my dad in seat F. ah well. the seats are just as narrow as the larger lufthansa airliner that brought us across the ocean, but there's about 3 inches extra leg space, which makes all the difference for someone my shape...
i'm not sure if i should sleep or not. might fuck up my internal clock more than it already is.
my cellphone didn't work in frankfort. i didn't expect it to, but one can hope.
monday late afternoon
we are starting our descent into skopje. the wall of clouds draws near. i'll need to put the machine away in a few minutes. ciao.
well, that was interesting. clouds in a 737 are bumpy. i told the plane emphatically that it couldn't crash, because i'd promised linda... once we got below the cloud cover the plane stopped shaking, and then the plane banked left sharply and landed. so to speak. it was raining. we touched down and then the plane started to brake, and then suddenly it felt like the plane shifted to the left, sliding sideways down the runway, but the pilot recovered and, as they say in germany, "alles war gut."
the skopje airport is a small building. we got out of the plane and walked across the tarmac to the terminal building and walked through the doors. immediately inside are 2 lines, one labeled "macedonia residents" and the other "foreign residents." we stood in line a bit, had our passports scanned and stamped.
short interruption as we tried to find an intenet cafe. most businesses are closed today for a national holiday. cafe astoria was open, but they get their connectivity from slovenia, and slovenia's sat link was down. given the cloud cover we flew over i'm not surprised.
so, in macedonia, we got our passports scanned and stamped, then jogged around the corner and some little old man in a uniform, cigarette hanging off his lip with a good inch of ash still attached stuffed our luggage through an xray machine, and that was the extent of going through customs. we walked past the small booth with the bored looking guy and a big yellow sign that said "TAXI" - this was, as far as i can see, the only concession stand or shop in the airport. i like this kind of airport. frankfort airport is (according to my uncle) 16km across, and employs 50,000 people. skopje airport can't employ more than a couple dozen.
we met ilija, our driver, just outside the airport. "your father is my best friend," he tells me. i guess he's paid reasonably well for this. he drove us in a recycled VW van into skopje itself. i'd like to see it when it's not raining and a national holiday - i'll likely take some time tomorrow and walk around the neighborhood a bit.
we are, in fact, staying at the hotel bimbo. i'll take pictures of the sign when i've got daylight. it's across the street from the catholic church, and two doors down from a collapsed building. tomica, the owner, is obviously a friend of ilija's. (i think everyoneone is a friend of ilija's.) it's a new hotel. in fact, we may be the first guests. i got plaster dust on my luggage coming up the stairs. it's a reasonably decent place by yugoslav standards. which is to say that it is clean. there's holes in the walls in a few places where bare wires may or may not ever be turned into electric outlets or phone jacks. if they are still there next year, that may answer that question. the phone system still isn't actually working - there's a phone in the room but it's not particularly functional. the proprietor gave my dad his wireless phone from the office to make calls to try to organize these meetings.
the bathroom is amusing. there's a sink (with fixtures that don't match the sink style), a toilet crammed into the corner so that you have to lean to the right to sit down, because the water pipes protrude from the wall, and a shower of sorts. why of sorts? well, it's kind of like a shower stall, but without the stall. just the base. no walls, no curtain, nothing to keep the water from the shower from ending up all over the floor and etc. which i guess is why there's a drain in the floor, and a raised lip at the door to the bathroom.
my father has been making phone calls. this whole expedition is apparently an excercise in chaos theory. over the past 4 years there have been multiple conferences organized by my father, len swidler, and president trajkovski. the idea was to get different people from different ethnicities and different religions talking to each other in order to foster an atmosphere of mutual understanding that could lead to peace. and a peace has been brokered, though there are still ethnic tensions (apparently in kosovo, there's still shootings, but not in macedonia). so the purpose now is to continue the work, implement decisions that were agreed to in previous conferences, etc. 'cept president trajkovski is dead, and people are being difficult. so it turns out that hardly anything has been organized, because, well, because.
so my dad, len swidler, an orthodox army chaplain from north carolina, a protestant theologian from canada, and two turkish guys with almost identical names: mahmed and mahmud (they have the same last name), are all congregating in macedonia, with no clear plan (my dad has been making phone calls non-stop trying to organize
things) and no place to meet.
well, a leader of the muslim community has just shown up at the hotel, and they are going to try to organize things.
we're going to eat soon. hopefully.
we'll be leaving soon to go to some resturant that ilija is recommending.