Archives for the month of: January, 2013

Who is Toše Proeski?

Toše Proeski

At the end of December I went on a small tour of Macedonia and Kosovo, meeting Peace Corps volunteers and fellow travelers along the way, and entertaining my travel-mates love of communist era statues and visuals.  On this particular morning we were headed to the Macedonium, a large monument in the semi-remote mountain village of Kruševo.  Just for a visual, Kruševo is built a bit like a bowl.   The bus dropped us off near the center at the lowest point, and then the city streets and buildings radiate outwards, winding upwards on the mountainside.


Needless to say we got lost, but using non-existant Macedonian and wild hand gestures, Joe found out that the statue we were looking for was in, or on, or around, or nearby to, something called the “Muzeu Toshi” (phonetic spelling based on – hell if I know).  So here we are walking, winding our way through the narrow city streets, getting a little winded by the steep incline and burdensome load of our travel things, stopping the occasional citizen and asking “Muzeu Toshi? Muzay Toshi? Toshi muzay?” We follow one nice lady who takes us through some alleys and then a small clearing opens up to our right and she points and says, “Muzeu Toshi.”

We walk into the clearing and follow the path and there in front of us, in stark contrast to the traditional style houses leading up to it is the Muzej Toše Proeskog.  Now when Joe and I walked in here, we could see it was dedicated to this man, but our immediate question was, “Who is Toše?”  Our guide, a nice lady who thankfully spoke English, was I think shocked and surprised that we had no ideas about Toše, though it helped when we explained that we were American.  Please watch the video below to understand what it is we saw.

So who is Toše?  Well quite simply – he’s a pop star.  A young, talented singer who died rather young and a cynical person could say of little consequence.  We walked through the museum, looking at oddments of his personal life.  It seemed so strange to see encased in glass an Adidas track suit, a Toshiba laptop, his identification card, credit cards and passport.  Acqua di Gio for heaven’s sake (apparently his favorite scent – really?).  I was derisive of the whole thing – and then I looked closely at a pair of jeans (I think from the day of the accident that killed him), and the curator had been clever enough to show, peeking out of one of the pockets, a little note, and I thought “Who was that from, or for? I wonder what it has on it?”

We walked up to the second level, and our guide showed us the copy of the living room in his family’s house where he spent time with them: pine wood floors, cheesy leather sofas, large flat screen tv, a few simple paintings and a knock off set of daishō.  We saw pictures of him with his nephews, soccer uniforms, awards for his charity work, and a wall with the phrase, “I love you all” written in every major language.  Apparently he ended every show saying this to the crowds.

At first it seemed like the museum was trying to build him up to be some superstar upon a godlike pedestal.  Don’t get me wrong, he was talented.  The number of albums, awards and recognition he received all before the age of 26 is impressive, but as we walked through the museum, mostly it just seemed like looking at the memorabilia of a nice, talented, naïve, young kid with a lot of potential who wanted to do good things for himself, his family and others.  I felt like I had just rummaged through a college kid’s dorm room, and it felt a little dirty.  But Toše means different things for different people: family, pop-star, commodity, philanthropist, national hero and the savior of Macedonia, etc.

Who is Toše? Just a person like you or me.

nice day for it

The Macedonium


A few weekends ago near the end of November I managed to catch the tail end of the Tirana International Film Festival.  I was only able to see the end of the short films submission, but check out some of my favorites.  Or click for the program.


An excellent documentary, the film begins first with Rosemary’s Baby and ties it to a box of items and memories found discarded on the streets of  Spain, and from its contents evolves the greater mystery and tragedy of a dysfunctional and loving family.



This one is just fun and well done.

During a visit to a tailor, a man is left alone with a large mirror. Whilst on his own, the mirror starts to play cruel tricks on him, in this take on a classic sketch by the Marx brothers.


This film takes places in an agriculture town in fascist Italy. There’s an odd point where the protagonist older self is walking around through the ruins of the plant.  Probably used to heighten the tension of what is building up in the past as well as tie into the fact that this is based on a true story.  The opening shots of the two children playing the tobacco fields are amazing.


This is a tense and suddenly hilarious film in a very French way.  The color saturation is excellent.


This film, while not my favorite, garnered a lot of attention and support the night I went.  It hit close to home and depicts the Balkans conflict of the 90’s and the very real ramifications for one family.

Honey Baked Chicken (from More-with-Less)

Honey Baked Chicken

Every now and again I feel the call of a culinary challenge.  This time it took the form of a whole chicken.  Normally I’m a chicken breast man, but I felt adventurous. Also the recipe called for a 3 lb chicken, cut up.

Now I have cleaned chickens before thanks to volunteer time with Scott and Tony at Pleasant Hill Farm in Rixeyville, VA and thought, if I can handle that, this should be a breeze.  Let me tell you friends and acquaintances – there is no bigger pain in the ass than having to de-feather a chicken, and surprisingly it gets even more annoying when it is mostly done and you still have the fine feathers and left over stubs prickling over a deceptively smooth skin.  If I were a more patient person, I would have no problem plucking said feathers with pliers in one hand and cocktail in the other on a coolish spring day, but in the dark, dead of winter and feeling more than a little starved, I wasn’t ready to have a Peace Corps experience (developed world problems, wah-wah).  After a half hour of scouring the chicken with, by then, numb hands, I thought to hell with it, I’ll eat the damn feathers (or just peel the skin off, but it doesn’t have the same dramatic flurry).  Then of course came the chopping.  If you plan on joining the Peace Corps, invest in a sharp knife, or knives.  I recommend a 12 in. (30 cm.) cleaver, and a whetstone.  Dull is just dull and chickens, even in death, are ornery creatures.

All that being said feel free to tinker with the following recipe.  The wise person knows when to face a challenge and when to substitute for 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast.

Serves 6
350ºF (176ºC)
1 1/4 hrs

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Arrange in shallow baking pan, skin side up: one 3-lb. (1.4 kilo) fryer, cut up.

Combine and pour over:

1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
2 T mustard
1 t salt
1 t curry powder

Bake for 1 1/4 hour, basting every 15 minutes, until chicken is tender and nicely browned.  Serve with rice.

Aloo Curry – Curried Potatoes (from here)

Curried Potatoes

Quick easy recipe for the new year when nothing is open, you have no food left, kids are shooting off firecrackers like it’s a war-zone and maybe you’re still slightly hungover or simply dazzled by the fact that you’ve just celebrated the New Year in Albania when last year you were in Virginia. ¡Buen provecho!

4 large potatoes
1 T cumin seed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small hot pepper, minced (or use 1/2 tsp chili powder)
1/4 cup fine chopped onion
1 t curry powder
1 t turmeric
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 cup chicken or veggie broth (or substitute for beer)


  1. Peel 4 large potatoes and cut into 1/2 in. cubes
  2. In a large pot, sauté the cumin seeds in veggie (or olive) oil for about 2 minutes. (If no seeds – no worries)
  3. Add minced garlic, onion, and pepper and cook until soft (about medium low so you don’t burn the garlic)
  4. Add potatoes, broth (or beer) and spices and stir occasionally until the potatoes begin to soften.  If it’s taking too long, cover pot with lid.  Also monitor liquid, and add water if need be, so the potatoes don’t stick to the bottom of your pan.

I spent December 31, 2011 with my sister and her family in northern Virginia.  As we awaited the countdown, random mixes of our favorite 80’s and 90’s hits mixed in with independent and foreign artists playing in the background, and the slow gin fizz was flowing (thanks Ray) and guests were getting primed for the countdown.  3, 2, 1 . . . and we were off into the new year, 2012.  Within a month I moved out of my DC apartment, within 2 I resigned my job, and by March I was on a plane with 40+ strangers to start my life in Albania.  New people, new language, new chapter, new adventure, new, new, new.

I spent December 31, 2012 with friends in my freezing apartment in Elbasan. Only two of us made it to the countdown, bubbles in hand. Fireworks and firecrackers blasted like a war zone. A little frightening, but a great spectacle (quick note – the city completely shuts down by mid day new years eve, so stock up on food, booze and any needed supplies. Two days later and we’re at less than half operation. Just saying).

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing all I can to make the most of this experience, but granted I was wondering that in my old life as well.  Thanks to my daily planner and Facebook Year in Review, I can say that I might not be doing everything, but I’m just getting warmed up.

Happy New Year 2013!

As a final note, there’s a lot from December still to catch up on, so expect those in pieces over the next few, as ¡Permiso Albania! presents “The December Issue: 2012”