Thursday, April 14, 2011

Serenity Now: A Note To Lake Ohrid

The other night, as the sun was setting, I took one final walk down the pier that juts out into Lake Ohrid.  When I got to the end and stood on the rocks, I nearly burst into tears.  My bus was scheduled to leave before dawn the next day, so I knew this was the last time I’d set eyes on the lake I’d come to love. 

When darkness set in, I walked to a café to do some writing, still feeling melancholy.  Along the way I started to worry that something was seriously wrong with me.  How had I become so emotionally wrapped up in a body of water?  It was odd, I thought; but still, it was real.  And this:  suddenly I had the urge to write an ode to the lake—or a haiku, perhaps.  But I'm not one for poetry, so I settled on writing a thank you note to help me say so long.  Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Lake Ohrid:

Thank you so much for having me these past two weeks.  I cannot even begin to tell you what a good time I had.  And I can't believe how fast the time flew--but you know what they say; that's how it goes when you're having fun.

I want to tell you how much I appreciate all the things you showed me.  Like how beautiful, magical, and serene the world can be; and how being old—like you—doesn’t mean you can’t still be completely gorgeous, captivating, and full of life.  I'm also thankful for the time you took showing me my own reflection; it’s something I’d been really wanting to see on this journey, and I feel like it helped me figure out where to go from here.

I truly enjoyed meeting all your cool and interesting friends, especially G., Aristo, the crews from the Sv. Stefan and Cuba Libre cafés, Rainmaker, and all the wonderful people on your south side, to name just a few.  They made me feel like family, and reminded me that I'm never alone in the world.  Thanks also for the beautiful flowers and that delicious trout—what a treat.

Tomorrow I’ll be pushing on to Pristina in Kosovo for more adventures.  Of course I will miss you terribly, but I look forward to visiting again someday.  In the meantime, I hope the dive team is successful in removing all those nasty bombs from your floor.  Whoever did that to you should really be ashamed. 

Again, thanks for everything.  Your friend,


I know:  I'm weird.  But I'm telling you, there's something mystical about this lake that'll change your life if you let it.  If you ever get a chance to visit, I think you'll see exactly what I mean.

* * * * *

Thank You Note Notes:

1)  Lake Ohrid is the oldest lake in Europe and one of the oldest lakes in the world, believed to have been formed tectonically between 4 and 10 million years ago.  Ohrid is one of few cities in the Balkans whose inhabitants have lived uninterruptedly throughout the classical period and during constant changeovers in power. 

2)  G., mentioned in previous posts, is the very knowledgeable 26-year-old manager of my hostel in Lake Ohrid who, among other things:  taught me about the history and politics of Macedonia; answered my endless and sometimes inane questions; looked after my safety; and lent an interested ear when I needed to talk about life after long walks around the lake.  He also facilitated my first taste of rakia (a.k.a., “fire water”), a locally homemade whiskey-like drink--approximately 60% alcohol content--made from grapes that are fermented and then distilled in a traditional, Macedonian way.  One of G.’s friends brought a bottle made by his cousin over to the hostel for a football (soccer) party.  It burned going down, but it was good fun.  

3)  I met Rainmaker at the Sv. Stefan café one day.  He learned that I was from the States and asked me to join him and his friends at their table, which included the owner of the restaurant.  The group proceeded to shower me with hospitality, including Macedonian red wine and some delicious beef that had been slow-cooked the entire day.  Rainmaker told me that he is an international music producer, part Navajo Indian, and a former bass player with a band called Blackfoot out of Jacksonville, Florida.  How random is that?  He left me with an important piece of advice:  When in Macedonia, take what is offered to you, unless it’s drugs.  The man is totally wise.

4)  One of the waiters at Cuba Libre whom I came to know represented Macedonia in the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics in the triple long jump competition.  He didn’t medal, but he did meet Kobe Bryant and Lebron James in Beijing, which, he told me, was pretty thrilling in itself.

Redzep Selman, Macedonian triple jumper

More friends from Cuba Libre

5) The United States has funded a mission to clear unexploded ordinances, or UXOs, from the bottom of Lake Ohrid, in conjunction with the International Trust Fund for Demining and Mine Victims Assistance.  Some of the UXOs are left over from World War I.  I had occasion to chat with the dive team and local EMTs accompanying them.  Like me, they would sometimes have coffee at the Café Gigolo on the lakefront.  One day they graciously posed for a photo.

6)  Aristo—or as I call him, the Aristo-cat about town—is about 65 and is Lake Ohrid’s equivalent of Where’s Waldo?  I ran into him almost every day in countless different locations around the lake, wearing his white captain’s cap and royal blue sailors' jacket with gold buttons.  Aristo spends his days taking tourists for boat rides on the lake, but at night, he told me, he likes to dance when the whim strikes.

Aristo confessed to me that he may not be much of a lover, but he sure can dance—even better than Michael Jackson and Elvis.  In fact, he said, he had come up with some of Elvis’s famous moves even before Elvis did, like the one where Elvis puts his hand up to his ear.  He described his dancing outfit for me, which includes: a white satin shirt with a blue and green butterfly on the back, a gold pin for the collar, white pants, a large black belt with a rhinestone buckle, and white patent leather shoes, also with rhinestones.  He loves Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Elvis and The Beatles.  Aristo loves America, too.  

Unfortunately I missed the chance to see Aristo dance, and I never did take the boat ride.  It was way too expensive, plus there are unexploded bombs in the lake (which--FYI--Aristo neglected to mention during his pitch).  Still, Lake Ohrid would not have been the same without the Aristo-cat.

Aristo in his boat.

Main walking street in city center:  Where's Aristo?
So long, Lake Ohrid and friends!