Last night the unit we're replacing took us out for dinner to a restaurant (Jozefi's) high up in the hills, not all that far from the town where one finds the Church of the Black Madonna. Now, when I say "us," I meant the Command and Staff of our Battalion, to include the NCOICs of each of the Staff Sections.
Much to my chagrin, this did not include SPC C, as he's not an NCO, despite his being the senior enlisted person in my Section. This annoyed me greatly, but he actually seemed relieved not to be going. He's a real Trooper, to be sure.
The 45-minute ride there was a bit harrowing, as was the ride home.
The streets here are in bad shape. And that's the nice way of putting it. But the drivers!
The other drivers here remind me of my summer in Italy, many years ago now, when I lived at the Vatican Astronomical Observatory at Castel Gandolfo (La Speccola Vaticana). One day, one of the Jesuits on staff there took the two of us Scholastics from the US and one of his priest buddies on a day trip to famous sites in the surrounding countryside.
There were four of us crammed into the little car, sardine-like. We careened around corners at nearly the speed of light, yet were still passed on the left (and right) by Italian drivers -- who were going even faster.
The English Jesuit who was driving, completely unconcerned, told us: "Italians prove the existence of God to themselves every time they pass another automobile on a blind curve going up a mountain." It wasn't a very satisfying explanation.
I guess it shouldn't surprise me, being here in Kosovo (not all that far away from Italy, as it turns out), that there would be the same kinds of drivers here.
Though we were going the speed limit (on roads that have no illumination whatsoever), we were repeatedly passed on the left (on two-lane roads) as we ascended higher and higher into the hills on our way to the dinner. I was grateful for my seatbelt.
Dinner proved to be quite an elaborate affair, especially given that there were easily sixty of us Soldiers in attendance. The courses were brought out at a leisurely pace. First there was a plate of cold cuts and cheese. Next was a dish reminiscent of the German potato salad my mom made when I was young.
That was followed by a plate of local bread, and then a salad of cubed tomatoes, cucumber slivers, diced onions, and shredded cheese. The next plate reminded me of a Spanish tortilla (which is nothing at all like its North American namesake), except that it was mostly potato.
A meat plate appeared next, consisting mostly of pork in one form or another, though there was a bit of chicken and beef as well. A plate of fresh vegetables followed, topped with goat cheese. The Chaplain who drove us out there had recommended we pace ourselves, but it was hard to heed his advice!
The most unfortunate part of the evening was the fact that everyone over here smokes. Indoors. Ugh.
I've gotten really spoiled living in an area that banned smoking indoors in public places many years ago, to include restaurants. Since I stopped smoking (even cigarettes) more than thirty years ago, I've become quite allergic to second-hand smoke.
Because everyone else in the restaurant was smoking, that seemed to give license to my comrades to light up indoors, which they cannot ever do anymore in military facilities. The clouds of acrid cigarette smoke were joined by even more pungent cigar smoke, as more and more Soldiers lit up.
It was frankly dreadful.
The three other occupants of our vehicle and I didn't even stay for the desserts, which appeared to be very lovely, home-made delicacies. By that point of the evening, I couldn't wait to get out of there, my eyes were burning so constantly, and my alveoli so constricted that it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Perhaps because I was in so much physical discomfort, I didn't even mind (so much) the return trip over those horrible roads, buzzed by such reckless and devil-may-care local drivers.
This morning my uniform from last night reeks, so is going off to the laundry!
Oh, if you're wondering, as I found myself doing, how it was that we were served so much pork in this majority-Muslim nation, it turns out that Jozefi's is located in a Catholic village. Pork, for them, is then not an issue.
The owner told me through an interpreter that the Catholic church building is just up the road from the restaurant. The priest there spent time in America, too. "Have you ever heard of a place in Michigan called Detroit?" he asked me.
I laughed at how small the world is.
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ