Pristina and Aleppo: Let Our Memories Be Long

Two posts leaped from my Facebook feed today.

This: “I imagine Eastern Aleppo will be nationalized and then given to some rich developers to turn it into a Solidere. The property will be sold on the market. 6 people will make a killing and none of the forcibly evacuated will be able to return. Of course, they will be allowed to return, they just won’t have the money to rent or buy in their own land. Tourists will come from all over the world to admire the new architecture and maybe, just maybe, give the victims and the rubble we see today 10 seconds of silence before they go out clubbing. And such is the barbarism of civilization.”

And this: A New York Times travel article entitled Five Places to Go in Pristina.

They are related.

Pristina, in the event you haven’t heard of the city, is in The Republic of Kosovo, a partially recognized country that declared independence from Serbia. It’s had a long and bloody history that includes Roman and Ottoman conquerors; being split into Albanian, Bulgarian and German controlled territories during WWII;  becoming part of Communist Yugoslavia; becoming part of Serbia when Yugoslavia disintegrated and in the late 1990’s deteriorating into the ethnic and political conflict known as the Kosovo War.  In 1998-99 after months of media coverage showing the carnage, NATO intervened and bombed to force Serbian forces to withdraw. Kosovo was placed under United Nations administration and NATO peacekeeping forces were deployed to provide military and policing.


In November 2001, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe supervised elections in Kosovo. I was assigned as an election supervisor that year and the following year. The evidence of NATO’s bombing was everywhere in Pristina. The telecommunications building was a shell and the site of a former military installation on the outskirts of Pristina that I visited was flattened. Since many bridges had been destroyed in the bombing, getting around the country was difficult. The infrastructure, feeble before the bombing because Kosovo was the poorest of the Yugoslavian republics, was damaged during it. Electricity was sporadic. Coal fueled the remaining energy plants and the air was thick with a grayish-brownish fog. The remnants of war were omnipresent. Our election briefing included warnings and graphic photos about the damage of hidden unexploded ordinances.

That was only fifteen years ago. So imagine my surprise in reading the gushing opening paragraph of a recent NYT article: Pristina swims in superlatives… Radiating from the promenade named for the recently canonized Albanian nun and book ended by the Yugoslavian era Grand Hotel and National Theatre, is a tangle of streets crowded with cafes, boutiques, fashionable locals and in the know internationals and the case for another superlative: coolest neighborhood in the Balkans.  


The article highlights the exposed brick walls and collections found in a hip new book store, raves about a vegetarian restaurant that buys its ingredients at a green market down the road and the velvet jackets found in a clothing atelier owned by a young French trained Kosovar. About Kosovo and Pristina’s history? Nada.

I’m ecstatic to read of the country’s emerging reputation for hip destination tourism. The economy can use it. Kosovars deserve it. However, its ironic that the front page of the NYT covers the current heart wrenching bombing, destruction and refugee crisis of Aleppo, Syria while its travel section promotes the coolness vibe of a country impacted by bombing, destruction and a refugee crisis less than twenty years old.

Kismit that my Facebook feed today includes this observation about Aleppo’s future:  Tourists will come from all over the world to admire the new architecture and maybe, just maybe, give the victims and the rubble we see today 10 seconds of silence before they go out clubbing. And such is the barbarism of civilization.”

My photos of Kosovo are how I choose to remember the country. Someday I plan on returning to see the progress and sample a tartine at one of its noveau bistros. I can appreciate the changes, but giving short shrift to its history causing selective amnesia about the ravages of war? No.



Gluhwein for a German Christmas

There’s nothing quite like the magic of a German Christmas Market. At night. In the cold and snow. With a cup of steaming gluhwein.


I tried the Christmas Market in Vancouver, Canada and while it was delightful, it wasn’t the same as my experiences in Weisbaden and Cologne, Germany where the tradition of Christkindlemarkts go back to the Late Middle Ages. Originally a place for villagers to meet and craftsmen and farmers to sell goods, today’s outdoor German Christmas Markets still serve their original function. There’s been an update with the addition of electricity – twinkling lights.


And rides. While there are still the charming traditional carved wooden Christmas toys and sweets in many of the stalls, there are also modern updates of machine made handicrafts and Christmas carols piped through loudspeakers when the choirs aren’t singing.


Every Christmas Market serves Gluhwein, a traditional Christmas mulled wine served in a special ceramic cup intended to warm your hands and insides on cold December nights while strolling the Market.

Gluhwein, which literally translated means “glowing wine”, is thought to have originated as a solution for red wine that was going bad. Adding honey and spices and cooking them in the wine with hot irons made it drinkable. Today it’s sold mit Schuss (with a shot) of brandy or another liquor for an extra dose of warmth.

Snow is predicted for my area again this week – a perfect time to pull out my gluhwein mugs, stock up on brandy and spices and make my favorite recipe (mit Schuss of course):

  • 2 medium lemons
  • 2 medium oranges
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 2 (750-milliliter) bottles dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Beaujolais Nouveau
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • Cheesecloth
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons and oranges in wide strips, avoiding the white pith; place the zest in a large saucepan. Juice the lemons and oranges and add the juice to the pan. Place the cloves and cardamom in a small piece of cheesecloth, tie it tightly with butcher’s twine, and add the bundle to the saucepan.
  2. Add the sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks, place the pan over high heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the red wine and brandy, stir to combine, and bring just to a simmer (don’t let it boil). Remove from the heat and remove and discard the spice bundle before serving.

Salamanca Spain’s Art Deco/Nouveau Museum

I’ve become a regular contributor to the regional magazine, WestSound Home and Garden. For me, travel is anything that takes me to new places or forces me to see the familiar with fresh eyes, no matter how small my travel distance. The magazine’s editor recently assigned me an article on art deco buildings in a nearby community. Often kismet plays a role in my travel experiences as it did with this assignment. It just so happened that I spent a day at the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco in Salamanca Spain when I was there this spring immersing myself in art, fashion, jewelry, dolls, fans, furniture and architecture of those two influential styles.


The museum is located in the Casa Lis, a building originally designed as a mansion for Don Miguel Lis, a wealthy Salamanca merchant fond of Art Nouveau. Restored in 1992, the building’s exterior stained glass windows are worthy of a few hours of inspired awe.


You can begin your tour in the museum’s artfully decorated tearoom next to a stained glass window contemplating the guide pamphlet while lingering over a cappuccino.

I began with the doll collection first, not so much because I’m a fan of dolls, but because I never realized that Art Deco and Art Nouveau had any influence on children’s toys. There is an entire section of display cases filled with elaborately dressed bisque headed French dolls used to showcase miniature Parisian fashions to the aristocracy and German dolls called character babies because of their realistic facial expressions.


Collections range from decorative cloisonne embedded with precious stones such as this egg with rubies to elaborately painted bronzes like the Nativity scene figure below:


While many European museums can be pricey, the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Deco is free on Thursday mornings and at other times costs 4 Euros for adults and 2 Euros for students. It’s a beautiful gem inside and out – worthy of an entire day of contemplating two influential styles that emerged from the Industrial Revolution and World War II.