A Walk in Old Tetovo

Posted July 28, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

So tomorrow is my last day in Tetovo.  Yesterday my fellow teacher Besa took me on a walk around the old town of Tetovo.  We went to several places that I had visited in the past, most importantly for me, the Colored Mosque.  There are so many beautiful old buildings in Tetovo, including the Turkish tekke or Muslim monastery that I have also written about, associated with the Bektashi sect, one of the ancient mystical sects of Islam.  The first mosque on this site was probably guild in 1495, but this is the Balkans and land has slipped back and forth during wars. In 1833 the mosque was rebuilt by Abdurrahman Pasha, the son of Rexhep Pasha.  Now maybe you are asking what is a Pasha and the answer is a Pasha is a title for landlords and generals in the Ottoman Empire.  This Mosque was build next to the Shkuma river, where there were other buildings of Islamic origin including a bath that is now open as an art gallery.

The eight-sided mausoleum to two sisters, Hurshide and Mensure, is in excellent condition and reminded me of the rather emptier tombs of Arthur and Gweneviere at Glastonbery. Upstairs there was a woman with spectacles on teaching children to read the Koran. The walls were clearly influenced by the French Rococo movement. That’s right. The interior of this Ottoman Mosque was painted with swirling baskets of flowers The amazing mixture of French painting style, including the domed ceiling’s miniature buildings and towns, was such a message of the fact that this town, like the Balkans in general, has been a synthesis of so many cultures, both European and Eastern.  The geometrical and floral elements are meant to convey the notion of wealth and luxury, while the smallness of the mosque convey a very different message, of coziness, like a dollhouse at Versailles. The Mihrab, whre the Iman leads the prayer, was particularly beautifully carved.  Work was going forward on the parterres of the courtyard, yet another combination of European cultures.

The single classical minaret allows one to see the Colored Mosque in Tetovo from all over the city.  I am so glad that I visited it again as I wondered where Abdurrahman Pasha, son of Rexhep Pasha, got the ideas for his amazing interior with its yellow and red flower baskets cascading off the walls of this beautiful and welcoming sacred place.

Merrilee Cunningham, WITS Writer to the Balkans
[photo of Colored Mosque from balkantravellers.com]

The Macedonian Express and the Best-So-Far Awards

Posted July 26, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Today was the first day of the WITS Creative Writing Camp in Tetova on the border of Bosnia.  The camp was huge with 25 students here this afternoon and four “Best-So-Far” Awards for each group — the morning kids and the afternoon kids.  I am not really sure how these “Best-So-Far” Awards got started, but they have come to have a life of their own.  They all culminate on the Fridays of the Camp with a “Best of the Best” Award in nine different categories, most of which are actually related to our writing, as in Best Haiku, Best Extended Poem, Best Play, Best Vignette, Best Short Story, Best Piece of Descriptive Realism, but also including Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director of the plays that are presented the last day, usually in front of a representative sent by the embassy in Skopje.

Every afternoon, after hours with the kids, sit down together and review the writing that went on in the camp and select the best pieces “so far.”  It is an interesting experience, but what is equally fun is to see the campers come in the next morning and the smiles on their faces when they have won one of the awards and they know exactly what they won it for.  Then, the third day of the camp, we begin awarding campers for the “Best Body of Work So Far.”

I guess life doesn’t really give such awards, but it would be convenient to get a kind of check-up like this from time to time in life itself.  It also let’s the teachers know, if there is no award for example, that we may need to see what we are doing and make changes.  That has never happened, but it is possible.  Hope that you are having a “Best-So-Far” Day yourself.

From Tetova, this is WITS Writer Merrilee Cunningham having a good day.

Hot

Posted July 23, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

I know that you think that it is hotter in Houston than anywhere, but I am so glad that I didn’t go to Sofia Bulgaria because the mayor is telling the cities of the city to stay in because it is so hot.  It is 31 degrees in Moscow. That is hot, hotter than it has been for a long time and headed towards 35 maybe.  Still, this is no doubt great for the fields of sunflowers, the hay drying in the fields or on the hay trucks that one passes. How do you pass a hay-truck, you city guys?  The answer is “carefully.”

No doubt the plums and pomegranates will still be fine and the ancient monasteries in the lowlands will still be there as well as the Moslem retreats near Tetovo that I discussed two years ago.  It’s just mid-July and the hay is already ready in the fields.  Old houses made of well-fitted stones decorate the landscape along with Byzantine-Roman forms.  Old Tetovo is near the old library on the mountain side, but we are in new Tetovo with the children discussing Japanese forms (in language that must be translated into Albanian) in Macedonia. And then at the end of the day, when the children leave the camp, I walk into the waning heat and head back to my hotel and the notebooks.

Merrilee Cunningham, WITS Writer to the Balkans (which actually means mountains)