Thursday, 1 September 2011

In Skopje (& Prilep)

On the road between Prilep and Veles
Just a quick update tonight- I'm now in Skopje, having driven three hours north from Bitola today. The road north was extraordinary- in between Prilep and Veles, there was a steep climb then a seemingly endless descent on a mountain A/B road; I stopped and took some photos of this extraordinarily parched landscape, with only chirruping crickets and the occasional passing heavy lorry for company. The landscape is rocky, tough, yellow and green, full of dust and stones. Away from the main road, it seems like it sees very few people indeed; over the winter, I can imagine even a main road like this being borderline impassable for days at a time.

Mountains recede northwards
The road between Veles and Skopje was remarkable. It's a main road- the equivalent of the road between Dunfermline and Edinburgh- yet it is very narrow, rutted and populated with all kinds of exotic motor species; ancient GAZ lorries still pulling a full load fifty years after first being built, at no more than 45 km/h; poisonous yellow Zastavas chugging along pulling trailers (Communist-era car colours are always vaguely suggestive of unpleasant medical remedies, or nuclear waste); even, on many occasions, horses and donkeys pulling carts chaotically laden with haphazard mounds of vegetables. Eventually, the road spiralled and corkscrewed through a ludicrously improbable series of tight turns, before giving way to a motorway, about 20 miles south of the capital. It was a beautiful drive for a visitor, but must be an extremely wearing road to have to deal with on a daily basis.

Prilep: socialist "hero city"
Skopje has changed quite a bit and seems to be in a frantic phase of re-building, since I visited here two years ago. I'm going to hold off saying too much about it here, though, until I've spent a few days in the capital. Instead, I should mention Prilep briefly. Prilep is about 25 miles east of Bitola, and couldn't be more different from either there or Krusevo. As a former "hero city" of socialist Yugoslavia, Prilep is all wide boulevards, towerblocks and Yugoslav-era public sculpture; this rectilinear order is in stark contrast to the jagged, angular, rocky mountains that surround this dusty place. Although smaller than Bitola, Prilep somehow felt more lively when I was there; the little cafes and pizzerias surrounding the old bazaar were crammed at lunchtime.

Prilep, in addition to being a "hero city", is home to the longest-established artists' colony in Macedonia. It was first designated as such in 1956-57 and is still home to many working artists and the large cultural centre <<Marko Cepenkov>>, as well as a major theatre. Unfortunately, the Marko Cepenkov seemed closed yesterday, so I had to content myself with taking some snaps of 1970s Yugoslav sculpture, and a rather puzzling gable end mural. Most remarkable of all, though, was a very strange, monumental angular sculpture, which you can see in the picture above. i was completely unable to find out anything about its purpose, although, with its globe cradled in giant steel legs, it did have more than a whiff of the Tony Montana about it; all that was missing was the legend "THE WORLD IS YOURS" in neon around the globe. Prilep's other claim to fame is that it is a major tobacco town; if you smoke Phillip Morris cigarettes, its more than likely that at least some of your tobacco originated in one of the ginat processing facilities on the outskirts of town. Although I had been frustrated in my attempts to see art, I liked Prilep a lot; it had a good feel about it, and folk were friendly.

My next updates on here, over the weekend, will say a little bit about Skopje, and the whole purpose for me being out in this part of the world in the first place. Until then...

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