Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Behind the Iron Curtain - 1973 - Yugoslavia

It is the summer of 1973 and I am traveling with my family through Europe. Both my parents being, at that point, teachers, we had all summer to explore. My parents have purchased a VW camper van and we are driving, they, 2 younger sisters and myself, an older brother stayed at home, sans itinerary, for three months.

We had our list of "must sees". Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Venice, Athens. To this list my mother, being a Gothic horror fan, had added the region of Transylvania in Romania. This was to include a visit to Castle Bran, a reputed castle of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula.

Between us and Romania stands Yugoslavia. At this time the countries that have reemerged since, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro were all united as Yugoslavia under the leadership of Marshall Tito. As we neared what was then Titograd, we encountered a series of modular apartment buildings on the outskirts of the city. The hexagon shape of the prefab units made them resemble beehives. My mother was aghast, ourselves living in a suburban ranch style home on a 1/4 acre lot. I, being an ardent socialist even at that age, considered them a remarkably efficient and relatively inexpensive way to house your population. The stacks of units included setbacks giving some of them access to small outdoor spaces.

The city itself seemed dark, even dingy, as many Eastern European cities did at that time. Photos of Tito were prominently displayed in every shop and restaurant. In the country, the roads were littered and fields and yards looked ragged and unkempt. It seemed, at the time, that the whole country suffered from fatigue.

We reached the city of Split, renown for it's well preserved Roman ruins. We visited the flea market there where I purchased a heavy, antique wool and horsehair vest with beautiful, intricate embroidery along it's hem executed in a tiny chainstich. Today, it is displayed on a vintage dressmakers dummy in our living room. It remains, after all these years, one of my favorite possessions. After Split, our next destination was the city of Pec. After consulting a map, we decide to travel there via a route called Chakor Pass. We begin an arduous, sometimes terrifying and incredibly fascinating 2 day adventure.

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