Thursday, April 7, 2011

St. Stefan's Sexy Salad Before I Die

First off, I promise right here and now that going forward:  (1) I’ll be more careful and will think twice before wandering down any more wayward paths; and (2) I’ll stop making references to my potential death in this blog.  But the latter thing really is central to the current story, so please bear with me this one last time.

The other day I took a long walk to one of my usual writing spots—the Restorant Sveti Stefan, or St. Stefan—on the northeast side of Lake Ohrid.  The walk—a spectacular one—mostly skirts the lake and brings me past the Macedonian president’s lakeside home (once Tito’s summer home), a fancy hotel where Lenny Kravitz reportedly stayed when he performed in Ohrid in 2008, and a long, windswept promontory that marks the south end of Ohrid Bay.  My hostelmate, Joe from New Zealand, calls the latter a “rocky outcrop,” but I think we’re talking about the same thing.  It’s basically like a rock-covered cliff, or bluff, that juts out over the lake.

I spent a few productive hours writing at the restaurant, and then packed up to head back to town.   I was ascending the set of stone stairs that leads to my usual walking path above when Fastball’s The Way came up on my I-Shuffle.  For those not familiar with the song, it’s about a man and woman who just pack their bags one day and wander the highways “without ever knowing the way.”  I suppose it inspired me to do a little wandering of my own because just then I decided to take a detour down onto the rocky promontory below.

Now, in my defense, this wasn’t just a made-up detour into the wilderness; rather, I could see from the well-worn, descending footpath--and later from the graffiti on some of the rocks--that many people had previously charted this territory.   So, like the others before me, I descended down the path and soon found myself euphorically scrambling over craggy rocks, pausing every now and then to take in the newfound, breathtaking views of the lake.

Things were going fine when I noticed that the slant of the angle beneath my feet was getting sharper.  I can’t remember my geometry too well, but I think I was approaching a patch of 45-degree-angle land at one point.  Perhaps this is nothing for some, but for me—and my short legs—I thought it might spell trouble.  I decided it was time to head back up to the walking path above.  But just then, the next step I took landed my left foot in an awkward, tricky position between two boulders.

Now, I realized, I was precariously perched on this steeply-angled promontory.  And, it was entirely conceivable, I thought, that one false move with my right foot could send me tumbling backwards, perhaps over the cliff’s edge and into the lake below.  I cut off the music and paused for a moment to consider things.

First, I thought it was important that I remain calm and not make a mountain of a molehill, so to speak.  I had spent the week conditioning myself within the labyrinth of alleyways that snake to the top of Ohrid Hill, upon which the famous St. Samuil’s Fortress sits.  If those steep walks were any judge, I was fairly confident I had the power to pull myself up into the next step here.  It was the ability to maintain balance that had me worried.
Samuil's fortress, dated back to the 4th century B.C.

View from Samuil's Fortress
That’s when my mind started down another familiar path:  the pesky What If one.  As in, What If I did fall?  I looked behind me and saw I wasn’t that high up.  I might even survive the fall, I thought, assuming I didn’t land on my head on one of the jagged rocks sitting in the lake below. 

Then I thought, What If I did fall, and What If I died, and What If somehow I got swept away into the lake, never to be seen again.  Lake Ohrid is, after all, the deepest in the Balkans, with a maximum depth of 288 m (940 ft) and a mean depth of 155 m (508 ft).  I had a backpack strapped to my back containing my computer, which, all told, probably weighed eight pounds.  Would the weight of the computer pull me under and keep me there, sort of like how the mafia does with the cement blocks?

I wondered. 

For a brief moment I considered throwing my camera on the ground before taking the next step.  That way, if I did plunge back into the water, my family could see how I spent my final moments; sort of like that guy in Into The Wild who died in the abandoned bus on the outskirts of Denali, Alaska--but minus all the intrigue.  I imagined I’d be criticized for being stupid even more than that guy was.  In my head I could hear my older brother’s playful ridicule:  What were you thinking, dumb-dumb?  (He calls me dumb-dumb sometimes, when I do dumb things, sometimes.)  In the end I decided against the camera-throwing, because I figured if that wouldn’t bring the jinx to my doorstep, I don’t know what would.

Soon I discovered all my worrying was for naught.  I mustered my strength, climbed the next step, and kept my balance; no problem.  I made my way to more level ground and scrambled back up a similar footpath to find my usual, flat trail waiting for me, safely away from the cliff’s edge.

Later, I looked at the pictures on my camera to see what people might have seen if things had gone the other way; namely, south, into the lake.  I found the following photo among the pictures I had taken that afternoon:

I had forgotten that I had taken a picture of this particular item on the St. Stefan's menu, and when I saw it again, it made me laugh to think that people would think my last meal on earth might have been something called a Sexy salad, containing nuts drizzled with honey.  

In reality, the Sexy salad would not have been my last meal had I unfortunately met my untimely demise over the edge of that promontory.  To be sure, I had wanted the Sexy salad; I love nuts and honey and imagined the combination would be something delicious.  But I thought it would be a bit too on the caloric side, so I opted for plain, scrambled eggs and a side of sliced tomato.  Looking back I realized that it would have been a damn shame if the last thing I ate turned out to be boring-old scrambled eggs rather than an exciting Sexy salad, all because I was trying to save a few calories.

I’ve now decided, after all this, that I don’t want to leave this life before I have a Sexy salad.  Who knows when I’ll be back this way, or whether it can be found in other parts of the world.  I certainly have never seen a Sexy salad on any menu, anywhere, which is why I took the picture in the first place I suppose.  That, and I found it amusing.

So tomorrow I’m going to do a little extra walking--to burn a few extra calories--and then I’ll head back to St. Stefan’s to make my order.  “I think I’m going to have the Sexy salad today,” is what I’ll tell my usual waiter.  I can hardly wait.  And I promise, I’ll steer clear of rocky outcrops on the way home—because I don’t want to eat my last meal for a long, long time.

Long view of the promontory with mountains overlooking.