THE BALKANS AND THE BEALE STREET BLUES
into a cheese factory. And that was it for Pristina. Even Putnik, famed, if not notorious, for its optimism and powers of positive thinking could only man- age for the capital of Kosmet in 1963 “...not before long an oriental village.”
Until 1912 Kosovo and Metohija had been part of the Turkish Em- pire. The local Albanian workmen still wore slightly raffish turbans made of grey scarves or what looked like tea towels wound round white skull caps. Packed into a bus with a load of them coming up from the station I felt I was further east than the Balkans. In their mix of old lounge suit jackets and untidy turbans they looked less like Socialist workers in Tito’s Yugoslavia than pictures of Yemeni irregulars or Kurdish rebels. The fact that many of them were fair with blue or grey eyes under the turbans made them somehow the more striking.
I’d been nearing the end of a marathon impulse trip round Yugoslavia. Having started off from a tiny seaside place on the northern Adriatic, just to see Zagreb, and leaving most of my stuff behind, I’d been looking increas- ingly scruffy and out of place till I came south to Kosmet where no-one else looked like they had many changes of clothes either. It had been October, and a beautiful Indian summer. How right the word seemed for Kosmet with its water buffalo, turbans and ox carts, the gypsies with their dark Indian faces, the mosques, the buses jammed to the roofs and children everywhere and to the west and north west the great mountains blocking off Albania and Montenegro; the Northern Albanian Alps. Kosmet had been the Ottoman Empire’s wild North West frontier when the fathers of the workmen on the bus were young men.
The plain of Kosovo was nearly 600 meters above sea level. As the sun went down it grew cold. The loaves being sold in the bread kiosks were steaming in the twilight. The soldiers and police were already in winter great coats nearly down to their ankles, the gun belts riding up over the top in an oddly innocent way, like a toddler’s harness. I’d never been in Yugoslavia in cold weather. The young soldiers in their great coats with the red star on their caps looked as though they should have been off guarding Lenin’s tomb.
In the October chill I’d been almost as down at heel and cold as the barefoot gypsy children pushing their fists against my legs. (“Come on, Aunt! Give me ten dinars! Only ten dinars!”) So down at heel, in fact, that the man on the door of Hotel Bozur, the new hotel in the center of Marshal Tito Street, didn’t even want to let me in on Saturday night. It was a dark, slim young waiter with an exact blend of deference and personal interest who had sized me up, ushered me in, brushed the crumbs deftly off the table cloth and brought me a strong Turkish coffee.