Duck, duck, duck

The farmer dispatched the duck silently, cleanly lopping the head off in front of the local kids and neighbors. The crowd, all male, had gathered slowly, at first the farmer and a neighbor and/or relation.  I shook their hands on arrival and  exchanged a “mirë dite, si Je?” (Good Day, How are you?) with them, while my passenger explained the particulars of our errand.  An elderly man without all his faculties wandered over in a patchwork coat, assisted by a freshly stripped staff, and swayed a bit as his cross-eyed gaze surveyed the scene.  A toddler emerged from a nearby house and made a beeline for the old man, grappling a leg.  The old man ruffled the kid’s hair and smiled half a set of teeth.  A teenager, home from school, got caught up in the eddy of conversation.  The farmhand came out of another house with a plastic bottle of water, a hand-pump soap dispenser, and a few plastic shopping sacks.

The headless canard flopped around the semi frozen moist ground in muted distress and finally lay still. The various characters gathered around the spectacle murmured, the younger set generally in surprise, others in understanding and recognition of something they see with regularity.  

I had come to this frozen farm some 30 km outside of Pristina to sort Christmas duck.  Poultry in town, fresh and frozen, is limited to Cornish Game Hen-sized chickens that once aspired to be full grown, and frozen turkeys.  In typical foreign service fashion, I came to this solution by word-of-mouth; my neighbor’s house keeper’s brother’s sister-in-law’s husband was the duck Farmer.  Or something like that; I’m uncertain about the last couple of relations exactly.  It was arranged that I should pick up said brother from his place of work and be his ride home, and he would direct me to this farm in order to get either a duck or goose (the housekeeper didn’t know which) for about €20 (about $22 USD at writing) of unknown size.  A sure success as anyone in my position knows.

The largest bird of the flock now still, the farmer and a hand began stripping it of its feathers and downy undercoat.  I left the raised roadbed, jumping to the field and landing with a crunch of slushy ice, approaching the area now that the blood droplets had stopped flying.  Steam rose from the bird as the pair parted the stretchy feather overcoat from muscle.   A farm cat, attracted by scent of hot blood, approached, plaintively, if not questioningly meowing.  It found the splatters from the duck’s struggle, looked our way and ascertained that it would be too much trouble to try and distract such a large group of people in order to drag off a duck its own size.  It wandered off in search of an easier meal.  The farmer’s blade was sharp, and the two had the task complete in a matter of minutes.   They bagged the bird and deposited it in my insulated cooler bag.  The pair took turns washing with the hand soap and water, other folks doing the pouring and dispensing for them.  The farmer stood up and fixed my gaze, his face relaxed in the satisfaction of a task complete and looking for my preference of the next duck.  “Shum bukar, falamenderit,” I said, and pointed to another duck.  

All told, I left the farm with three ducks, negotiated down from the advertised price slightly, and dropped the brother at a bus stop at his request, and headed back through the smoggy-foggy countryside and into Pristina.  EFM task complete.

Stobi Winery

 

 I’m 165 kilometers from Pristina today, listening to a smooth jazz version of New Order’s Tainted Love, in a 1960’s inspired dining area, the customer-facing part of Macedonia’s Stobi Winery.  This is one of the ways to pass the smoggy winter in Kosovo, and a great way to pick up some decent wine at a great price.

The coal burning power plants on the western side of Pristina, combined with the wood and coal burning stoves in the residences of the over 200,000 people in the city have cast a palpable haze across the city, cleared briefly by a snow (the first of the year!) the day after thanksgiving, is back again.  At night, the street lights and lights of passing cars cut through it, clearly showing the fine mist of ash coming down like a thick smoke.

The smooth jazz singer has now shifted to “Take On Me.” The drive down here was smoggy nearly the entire way, and even now the mountains in the distance are hazy.  The road from Pristina is nice for a few kilometers, but quickly devolves into a bumpy two lane affair stuffed full of construction trucks, tractors, and sputtering 1990’s Mercedes passing the aforementioned on blind curves and poorly marked no-passing zones.  All of this traffic can go as fast as 50mph (80kph), but more often is 20-30mph.  About an hour outside of Pristina, I cross the sleepy border into Macedonia.  My diplomatic plates give me no respite, and I wait in line with everyone else, a process that takes some 15 minutes in total.

Once into Macedonia, the roads don’t improve until I reach the ring road, whose interchange  inexplicably is without an eastbound entrance, forcing me to track west a few kilometers before heading back west onto the smooth pavement of this four lane highway.  The few tolls that there are don’t diminish the fact that I can travel 80mph and the remaining kilometers melt away.

I exit the highway, following the “historical marker” type brown signs with white text on that mark my approach to the winery.  After cruising slowly through the town beside the winery, I pull into Stobi’s industrial warehouse gate entrance, and a guard tracks my car as I pull into a parking space out front.  I enter a dining room filled with travelers seeking a bite to eat and a drink, and find myself where I now sit.


After a short meal of what is essentially a hamburger patty covered in cheese, with a side of grilled veggies and potatoes, accompanied by a glass of their Aminta, dry red blend, I head to the cellar area, and pull out my list.  I’ve announced my trip to J and her colleagues, and various people have put in their orders.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My trunk filled to the brim, I head back home.  The southern alps are barely visible through the haze, like the relief on a well worn coin. Cough.