I am beginning my third and next-to-the-last day in Bitola, and it has been wonderful. The kids have done great writing, and we are working after they leave to create the anthology of their works combined with pictures of the class and the teachers. There is a very efficient Peace Corps Volunteer named Patrice who comes in after working all day to help us type in the documents. I believe that this is going to be as fine an anthology as the one in Skopje. There is a student here named Philip who writes more interesting poetry than I do. There is also a young girl named Sophia who has written an amazing extended metaphor paper comparing the ball in soccer to Macedonia and the players to Macedonia’s leaders.
Today we begin working on their plays. The students are very excited that their plays will actually be produced in the Theatre Bitola in the Cultural Center in the center of town on Thursday. So they will not only have a real stage, but they will have the stag of the old official cultural center of town with the amazing statues from the Soviet era in front of the entrance. In Tetova, as I said in that posting, there was a Soviet-era statue of a great Albanian poet as well as an statue of an anonymous statue of a female worker (Virginia Woolf was right about so many of the anonymous, in this case sculptures, being women). I wish you could share with me the interesting subjects of these pieces of deco Soviet-era art that remain in public spaces in the countries of erstwhile Yugoslavia.
Yesterday evening, I was fortunate enough to see Phillip the Second of Macedonia’s Heraclea with its fabulous Roman mosaics of fish, birds, and mammals. I had the necropolis to my self with the exception of the guide/guard who lives at the site. I walked the buildings which once serviced an ancient city of 35,000, devoted to the goddess Hera. There was certainly evidence, in the tiny museum which was opened for me, of other gods being worshiped. A big and a small basilica and many capitals with crosses, as well as the fish themselves in the mosaics, attest to the importance of this as an early Christian site. Before that, there is certainly the image of the Persian God Mithraism, so important to distant Roman legions, and there is a small statue of the god Mithraism with his cloak flying on the floor of the museums. The museum itself was a cafe until a few weeks ago. There was an amazing bronze lamp, which attested to someone having gone to Rome from here.
In the summer evenings, Heraclea is crowded with people as there is a famous Roman theatre where performances are produced. I feel sure that Heraclea has a bright future as only a tenth of the original city has been uncovered by archeologists. The imposing theatre cannot be seen at first and one wonders why the Byzantines did that. Did they fear plague or revolution if the citizens met for drama or meetings?
In two days, I leave Skopje for Vienna and then back to Houston, my family, the university and Writers in the Schools.
From Bitola, this is goodbye from the Macedonian Express.
Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools