Saturday, December 30, 2006
Skopje By the Sea, Florida.
I haven't been posting this week, because I was down in the Republic of Macedonia, as pictured above. No, not that Macedonia. The other one, the newer version, Macedonia 4.0, with new features such as palm trees, Cuban sandwiches, and rum mojitos. Macedonia as it was intended to be - located in southern Florida - far away from Greek territorial claims and annoying Albanian irredentists. Of course, this new Macedonia 4.0 offers many of the better features we associate with the older models, such as Skopsko Pivo, now available in the gas stations of Boca Raton. Boca Raton - yes, the name of the town translates as Rat's Mouth - is located just north of Fort Lauderdale, and has been home to my old buddy Emil for over a decade. Emil is a Macedonian who came to the US back in the seventies, when we met the night I bought my first Macedonian bagpipe, a goat skin gaida. I was chatting at a classic 1978 Ramones/Pattie Smith/Clash punk house party with this hippie guy that I took to be Mexican, when the topic of bagpipes came up. This Mexican guy also claimed to play the gaida as well as the kaval, the Macedonian long flute. Unique for a Mexican, but Emil turned out to be Macedonian, and we've been friends - and partners in many of the wierdest experiences of our lives - ever since. Recently, Emil has taken on a new and even more dangerous project: Emil and his wife Jen are attempting to breed miniature Macedonians in the Florida swampsThese miniature Macedonians have all the outward appearances of regular Earthlings - they smile a lot, they fart a lot, and they get hungry at odd hours of the night. They look cute and innocent, but I warn you, citizens of Earth... meet your new Master! Mansur. He will inherit the leadership of the Guffi'yah tarikat ... the legendary Brotherhood of the Goofy Sufis...Just south of Boca and Ft. Lauderdale is Hollywood, Florida. Hollywood seems to be the magnet community for emigre Balkanoids. This is what the Balkans were supposed to look like before the planning commitee went all pear-shaped. It is possible that the attraction was the fact that these south Florida towns offer the only decent espresso coffee in the continental United States, due to the influence of the Cubans, who laugh at your puny Starbucks and its ridiculous caffeine content.You can hear Serbian, Macedonian, and Romanian spoken in the local cafes of Hollywood. There is a Cafe Transylvania off the main drag and you can buy Romanian style cheese and salami at the market. I felt right at home... walking around in a t-shirt and flip-flop sandals in the humid heat on Christmas day. Just like Craicun in Cluj!Of course, some of the traditional culture of the Balkans gets lost when transported to south Florida. The traditional sour soup of the Balkans, ciorba, begins to look suspiciously like Vietnamese pho, especially after you squeeze lime into it. Actually, on Christmas day, Vietnamese restaurants were the only places open. Perhaps the best soup on earth. South Florida is essentially a swamp. The Everglades swamp comes right up to the edge of the central Florida towns, and alligators suddenly become a very real problem to people who jog along the canal with their poodles. The sign informs us it is not wise to "entice" alligators. Poodles are the preferred snack for "enticing" two meter long alligators. I actually saw a gator raise its huge head while fishing in a canal for peacock bass. It was like watching a queen-sized bed emerge from the creek to laugh at me. The peacocks are an amazonian predator fish introduced to control the populations of exotic tropical fish that Floridonians have released into their native waters - cute fighting siamese guppies grow to three meters in these waters, and they like poodle meat as well. Tilapia breed like rabbits in the canals. Air-breating catfish stroll around parking lots at night. Simply speaking, south Florida is an environmental nightmare. You might think Florida would have been better off if left to the stewardship of its native people, the Seminole Indians. Maybe. The Seminole have a reservation in Hollywood as well. Here is the view from the main street on the Dania Seminole Reservation. Hmmmm... well, at least the tax-free cigarettes were cheap. Long live Native Sovereignity!