Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I've reached Varna, the Black Sea

Yesterday in a café in Arbanasi, I wrote the following words. I apologise in advance for their 'craziness' and/or for being mistaken, if I am. I am aware that this deep and ponderous self is only of my dimensions. Indeed that I have many 'selves', none of which are fake or pretentious, none of which, to me at least, seem mutually incompatible. This means, however, that when I express myself, such as I do below, in a way particularly suggestive of only one of my selves I feel somehow embarrassed by a suggestion of self-misrepresentation. Yes, this is me, but I am more than this, so to consider this to be me, and only this me, is to be led astray.

In the world to come

There will be no

Money or Trade
Marriage or exclusive love
Egoism or Idolatry

However, People on the material plane will be able to have whatever they want and in whatever quantity they desire (so long as it is available).


People will not have to work. People will only work if they want to, and if they know what they want to do. People will only ever do work which they want to do.

People's privacy will be an certain prerogative and possession. That said, privacy will be conditioned by the realities of life lived according to the authentic, not the egoistic "I". That authenticity on the one hand will lead those possessing it (i.e everyone) to want to sensitively respect the lives of others; so delicate hands respecting the other will be seen. On the other hand, people will not want to isolate or conceal themselves, since the public domain will itself be infused and animated, suffused and conditioned, by that very same mode of authentic being which inhabits, albeit in a different style, the individual soul. Recognition felt, then, between an individual's inner life and the outer, public life of society will lead people both not to feel the need, in the extreme way we see today, to conceal and demarcate private from public, and to want to share and reveal their inner desires, feelings and thoughts to the greater vitality and richness of that public space. So a different arrangement or 'contract' between public and private will be established, based always on consent and desire, regulated by the inner voice of an authentic, not egoistic, self, attuned to the holistic intelligence of God.

Clearly the above is very utopian, very idealistic. So what? After I finished my after dinner speech at the Athenaeum Club in London to the Society of the Knights of the Round table in 1988, I was told by an elderly gentleman never to lose my idealism. I wonder if the above pleases him.

A Communist, moi? If you want, I don't care for labels. Communitarian certainly. What's in a word? Communist could do as well. But of course since the divine is central, indeed foundational, to my vision, clearly I am world's away from the disastrous experiments in communism of the recent past. Reminiscent more, no doubt, of the social experiments of England during the 17th century Interregnum, but still rather different from them too.

The 'Communitarianism' I speak of belongs to the future, not the present. And it will follow, not precede, a transformation of human consciousness which will itself attend and follow, as we can already see it doing, the collapse of the traditional structures of human society, through a dynamic, not of revolution but implosion.

Marx's great error was to see matter as more fundamental than consciousness; and related to this to suppose that human nature would be changed by a radical reordering of social and economic relations. Because of this error, Marxism was doomed to failure from the start.

He was right however to see human nature as malleable and mutable, unfinished and capable of great things, but wrong to see it as something only needing liberation from an unjust system in order to achieve greatness, justice and freedom. His critique of the world, then, was not deep enough, since he failed to deplore the human subject for what it is in-itself, be that ruler landlord or peasant, merchant or worker.

First the inner life of mankind must change, only then will his outer life be transformed, and the phoenix of a genuinely just world arise from the ashes of a redundant and surpassed world.

It should be a gentle and gracious process, the old making way for the new gradually, not by violent revolution, but when it has been observed that the old has been transcended, that new wine requires new wineskins.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Veliko Tarnovo

Internet access is patchy in Bulgaria and when you find it prepare to be suddenly cut off. Two hotels I've come across don't offer it but have been glad to offer me the computer in the manager's office, which I thought as pleasant as it was unusual.

The chronological, factual day by day account of my derring-doing, such as is in my last post, I'm sure must be dull- in form if not in content- so I'll put all detail of my travellings into that one entry, so you may have to refer back (if interest calls). Naturally, I keep these records as much, if not more, for myself as for other sublunar souls. I say that not to sound selfish but to fortify myself with a reason to carry on if nobody else cares to read.

I've been trying to work out why my left leg hurts in two places. In my calf muscle in a precise way it never has before, but also in the heel of my left foot, especially when I stand up in the morning after waking. Sometimes it leaves me limping. It tends to get much better after about 30 minutes or so but if I focus I can sense it's there all the time I walk. I remember I had this pain 4 years or so ago when I was going out with Maria. She got me one of those stone, rubby things you use to despatch dead skin from neglected feet, and I definitely used it. Was this then why the ailment got better? Will using one of these (pumice stones??) work the trick again?

Or maybe it's got to do with the fact I'm a bit overweight, as I was then, and have been less so since, until recently? Maybe I have too much pressure pushing down on my overburderned footsies (but why then the left and not the right also? Because my right leg is longer than my left? Hmmmmm intriguing mysteries, Sherlock.)

Or maybe its something to do with blood presure or flow in the inner pathways of my left lower tentacle.

Today was noticeable for three losses, which have combined to make me the poorer, and presumably somebody else the richer. In order of importance, from least to greatest: both of my pairs of headphones (I count both as one item), my copy of "Lost Christianity", which I was enjoying, despite its sogginess, and my Creative MP3 player. I have no idea how I lost these but I sincerely doubt foul play was involved. Its just a habit I've always had - not retaining my satellites, allowing them to slip free and defy gravity. Presumably this has something to do with attention, or the lack of it; not being present, not being focused, not having ones brains nailed to the floor. Or is it that I'm not mechanical enough in my movements, not regulated or routinised in the way some are who never lose anything except at the hand of invaders?

My mind teases me that its not too late for my MP3 player, that somehow it's going to turn up the next time I scour my back pack and open every flap and portal; or else that a mysterious email will somehow reach me, summoning me back to reclaim my property from wherever it was I abandoned it. But this is pancake thinking, isn't it? Possibly, if I could somehow remember the name of the Hotel in Koprivshitsa I stayed in last night I could contact them and see what flies, but I think its time, really, to bury the memory, and console myself with the productive rumination that, despite the damn inconvenience of its loss, it really was a crummy piece of mechanical excrement that never stored enough and too often just didnt work at all (for example throughout my entire trip to Japan last year). No hard feelings, MP3 player, I hope. I knows its your creator's fault.

Of course, if this was 3 years ago, in a more solid, reliable, less Gizmatic world, and had my case of CD's with me, all I'd do is buy another CD Walkman. But now, I have no CDs here and what use is an MP3 player to me If you can download songs in shops somewhere in the world, I'm pretty sure you can't in Bulgaria.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ohrid until today

Saturday July 21st Walk alone around Pirin national park, near Bansko, Bulgaria. Alone with wild horses. Climb up mountian through the river, over rocks. Listen to Dido on my descent. Walk down hill but catch a lift with 2 Brits, here unsurprisingly to buy property. Weird to see a ski slope with no snow. Swim in hotel's pool and chat to friendly son of the owner of the room I'm staying in, who gave me a card to show to my friend advertising "Cosiness in the heart of Bansko". Read from 'Lost Christianity' by Jacob Needleman, after a break of 19 years. A vivid, poignant book. My DvD of Kafka's 'The Trial' is unfuctionally scratched.
Friday July 20th Take bus and then taxi and then bus from Rila monastery to Bansko. Overwhelmed by number of Real estate offices, many of them British. Meet a Bavarian expat, the first foreigner to live in Bansko, or so he says. Read much of 'Bloodline of the Holy Grail' by Laurence Gardner, an academic yet partial and unsterile look at the 'Jesus had kids' question. My thinking: So these descendants of Jesus and his brother James: What is it makes them so special even if they do exist...is it something in the blood? Obviously I think I'd like to be such a descendent, and have a secret order looking after me, but I get the impression they're all aristos linked to dispossessed royal houses. Overall, I approve of Gardener's analysis of the forces of ecclesiastical/political oppression over the years. And interesting how he argues that people's rights were undermined not strengthened by Parliament's triumph over the King in the later 17th century. I like what he says regarding a 'Grail code'; that rulers' prime responsibilty is to their duties, not to themselves; to serve, not to be master.
Thursday July 19th Stay the night in Rila Monastery, the holiest place in Bulgaria, centre of Bulgarian cultural preservation during Ottoman rule. Very beautiful building. Meet a friendly, uncamp, gay ex music producer from London, who persuades me to drink a raika (strong spirit). We almost don't return to monastery in time for curfew.
Wednesday July 18th Feeling better than yesterday. See remaining churches and sights, but fail to get up Vitosha mountain. See Transformers at cinema...witness what I'd missed out on as a kid. Chat about Armenian history with gigi, the hostel landlord.
Tuesday July 17th Madly hot in Sofia..and dry and tiring. Watch 28 weeks later at the cinema. Need to, but cant find a swimming pool.
Monday July 16th Chat with very aimiable, informative Greek guy on bus from Pristina to Skopje about Greek politics and UN and other humanitarian work. Idle aroud waiting for the bus to Sofia, and stay in a hostel of a very friendly, half Armenian Bulgarian.
Sunday July 15th Long wait in Mitrovica for the bus to Nis that I get thrown off. Meet UN police men/women and students from Croatia and The Netherlands. Experience the loud defiant vibrancy of the Albanian quarter on the Serb side of the river.
Saturday July 14th See barricaded KFOR protected Serb churches in the heart of Prizren. Meet jolly Albanian on bus to Mitrovica and explore Serb side of the river.
Friday July 13th Crawl out of bed to meet Mark, expecting him to be late, which he isnt. Take boat from ex Macedonian soldier, who'd worked with the British Army in Kosovo, around the Penninsula to a tourist-free beach. Are harassed by the Manger of a beach-siding restaurant when i audaciously drink from my own water bottle as I order a beer and some food. Formerly timid waiter grows disdainful in his presence, declaring, as if this was supposed to impress me,'he's the owner'. Decide in Pristina to immediately continue onto Prizren.
(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Composing on a Mac is weird and awkward. The Mouse is bizarre. Moreover, Im sitting on a stool with the keyboard on my lap, far far from the screen.

Incredibly hot today. Headaches, sore legs and frustration. I can't get my mind round Sofia, city of holy Wisdom, can't grasp or discern a clear picture of it. Maybe I need more time. Very long streets, lots of shops, not enough squares, not enough open spaces.

Lovely yoghurt type drink that I hope will calm my stomach. It looks like milk and you can buy it in pubs.

Wikipedia and Google do not clearly point to any real historical figure called St.Sophia (or Sofia), the Sofia which so many churches in the Orthodox World and this city are named after. So one is inclined, as I am tempted, to conclude that the Sofia referred to is in fact the celestial enity equated with "Wisdom'', or "The Wisdom of Jesus Christ". While in the non-heretical conventional Christian World there's not much to this "Sofia", beyond whetever it is you might think of as Wisdom, when you look at Sofia from a Gnostic viewpoint a true can of worms open up. This Sofia to them is a female manifestation of the Godhead and consort to the celestial Christ, who in a fit of Christ-shunning independence created a flawed, lesser being called laldabaoth, whom she then hid in a cloud. Poor laldabaoth you might think. Well, Indeed. Anyway, according to the gnostics, this cloud dwelling lesser being is none other than the creator of the physical universe, and so more than a little important- at least from our perspective- despite his flaws and limitations.

The appeal of this gnostic myth is that it echoes what Morpheus tells us in the film, The Matrix, that there is 'something wrong with the world'. Just as in the film, so also in reality, what is wrong is that this 'world' is the invention of a malicious and manipulative, or at least ignorant and deluded, agency, and that it is not our true home.

A pleasing corollary to this, one that defends the dignity of we humans (generally a good thing I find), is that we cannot be to blame for the problems of the world in the way mainstream Christian theologians tediously insist we are with their fruity doctrine of Original Sin etc etc etc.

Instead to blame is this cloud dweller, the blind God, the child of Chaos, laldabaoth, and behind him, ultimately (for presumably he didn't ask to be born and to be concealed in a cloud) Sofia herself, the consort, or dare we say lover of Christ (forget the Magdalene, this romance with Sofia was bred from eternity).

And since Sofia is divine this 'blasphemously' puts the blame on the true God him/herself, which of course is something the pomposity of mainstrean Christianity can never stomach. And why should that be we might ask? Because to them God is ultimately all about power, and is the ultimate justification of their own all-too-human power. As below, so above. Power loving priests cannot continue in power if they accept blame or criticism, and so it must be the same, indeed even more so, for the God that upholds and defends their position.

But if God is not about power at all, but instead about love, then God wouldn't mind being exposed to criticism or being vulnerable, and accepting that things might have gone wrong, or even fundamentally be wrong, with the very structure of the universe itself.

But spiritual people will never be comfortable with this idea as long as they cling to their pomposity, I fear.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Back In Skopje

No, things did not go according to plan. I won't be catching the Balkan Express, romantically sat over a Turkish coffee as its chuffs towards Istanbul. Instead I wait for a bus in Skopje, a town I was determined not to have to return to. Why? Because I was thrown off my bus to Nis at the Serbian border by a plain clothed, embarrassed, cigarette offering, but finally apologetic policeman.

I didn't understand why I was thrown off. From what I gathered from his shrugs and amiable sighs, neither did he. But he was certain I couldn't go on, that if I wanted to enter non-Kosovan Serbia I had to return to Macedonia and enter again from Presovo, a different border point. This confused me, since I'd thought Kosovo was still technically Serbian. I hadn't expected a Serb would want to doubt that, by acting all histrionic about pompous things like border crossings and passport stamps. Still, this is what he did. I had to return to the point at which I entered Kosovo from Macedonia. I had to leave one part of Serbia in order to enter another part. And all this in a country that doesn't think its divided. Put that in your bong and smoke it.

Now I see why it is, and it makes more sense. The stamp I got when I entered Kosovo (Serbia?) was only a United Nations stamp, not a Serbian stamp. Therefore, by trying to leave UN administered Kosovo I was trying to travel around Serbia without a Serbian entry stamp. Since Serbia does not recognise the UN administration of its Holy Land, the border between Kosovo and Serbia isn't a Serbian border or entry point and therefore it can't give me an entry stamp. But I needed a stamp so, hey presto, here I am in Skopje planning, perhaps unsurprisingly, to give Serbia a miss for now. Actually, from a Serb point of view I grant, the logic is impregnable. Its just that from mine it was a pain in the ass.

Ultimately, I see that it was probably good he turned me around when he did. Otherwise who knows what might have happened when I tried to leave Serbia at the Bulgarian border without a Serbian entry stamp. Maybe I could have just said I parachuted in and left it at that. Ah, but then he'd have seen my UN Kosovan entry stamp and my dastardly 'greater' Serbian roamings would have been revealed for the foul deeds they were. Still, at least I travelled from Southern to Northern Kosovo, which was basically my intention.

Presently I'm thinking of a windy route across Bulgaria to the black sea and then of catching a boat to Odessa. From there I might enter Moldova and see Kiev and Lviv before crossing back into Slovakia.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mitrovica, Kosovo

Thanks to misinformation I linger on the border between Serb and Albanian Kosovo longer than I'd planned. My bus to Nis (in Serbia proper) leaves in one and a half hours.

On the bus from Pristina an Albanian joked that I was secret service (CIA in his view). Between amiable laughs he warned me not to cross to the Serb side of the river Iba. He seemed intrigued that I should be in Mitrovica. Maybe there are some repressed machismo urges in me seeking expression but I can't help feeling vaguely attracted to danger zones like this. Only, I really don't find it intimidating or unwelcoming at all. Of course, the Serbs are somewhat grumpy and dour in contrast to the Albanians, but generally one expects such reserve from Slavs.

According to an English UN ex-Policewoman I chatted to, I should buy myself a hat to avoid sunstroke. She also told me there are still sometimes isolated incidents of violence involving grenades, etc, but besides such media-unworthy events there's been peace here for three years since the riots in 2004. That said, tensions simmer beneath the surface. Kosovans yearn to declare an independence they consider all but in the bag, yet are restrained from doing so by an America that first wants the EU to replace the UN as chief Kosovan guarantor. The big Russian bear, which says it will support nothing that Serbia opposes (like giving up Kosovo) is also a factor. To the Americans, Kosovo, next to missile shields and Iraq/Iran, is not a priority, over which its not worth upsetting the honey monster. Well, not for now at least.

I, an Englishman, remain as puzzled as the next Albanian as to why the Serbs care as they do about Kosovo. After all, it was here they lost to the Turks in 1389 in a battle they continue to celebrate in an expression of patriotism. Isn't that like the Anglo-Saxons celebrating the Battle of Hastings? Beyond this, 90% of the population is Albanian. Have I missed something? Enlightenment requested. Obviously I now have to suppose some will think me anti-Serb or whatever. Such is the world I have grown all too acquainted with.

I enjoyed looking at the battery powered generators the Albanians use to keep the lights on. And the fact that coffee costs 50 Euro cents. It's definitely the cheapest area I've been to so far in the Balkans..and possibly the friendliest and most laid back (threat of bloodshed not withstanding), which as usual doesn't surprise me.

Not sure I've ever been to a place where you pay with one currency in one cafe (Euros in Albanian areas) and another currency just up the street (in Serb Dinars). Generally speaking the river Iba divides the communities, but there's still an Albania area on the Serb side (called the Bosnian quarter), and Serb and Albanian flags fly around the corner from each other. Despite the offical tension it was interesting to read that the communities do co-operate, for example on a recent river cleaning project. Politicians avoid mentioning such matters since polarisation and fearmongering court votes, as we know.

Two hours after being told by a German UN police officer that I was the first tourist he'd seen in eight years, I surreally ran into and drank coffee with three young students studying cultural redevelopment here at the local University. They seemed as relaxed and blase about life as they might back home.

If all goes according to plan I will not be sleeping in Nis bus station tonight when I arrive at 11pm after my 6 hour bus journey, but will find a hotel (preferably not 5 star). The pretty Serb Girl who bought my coffee reassured me I'd be ok.

Plans are to get the "Balkan Express" tomorrow to Sofia, my first train yet. Hopefully it will have a buffet car.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Prizren, Kosovo

Greetings from Kosovo, a place which is understandably, and agreeably, free of tourists. Sometimes I like to flow with the backpacker circuit, but not always.

The keys on this typewriter are laughably eccentric and the speed of my connection is pitiful but with a Peja beer to accompany me, a meal somewhere to look forward to and a room in which to watch my recently purchased pirated copy of '28 weeks later' chanting to me, all is well with my world. You may wonder how I will watch the film? On my portable DVD player, that's how..the ultimate travel accessory, and at a mere 10 euros second hand only deceptively plush.

Today in Skopje, the Macedonian capital, where I spent one night after Ohrid, I walked in on a Mosque during the weekly friday prayers. My exotic presence was noticeably reflected upon but always aimably I felt (ok except for one staring guy). They wanted to engage me in conversation in German, which taxed my O level memory. Only men and boys were present. I liked the ways they just hung around the drinking fountains, languidly paying attention to their religious responsibilities when they felt the calling, casually removing their shoes where appropriate. Otherwise just chatting and idling around.

As it was in Bosnia 4 years ago, it remains a surprise to see Muslim Caucasians. One just doesn't expect it (does one?...or do 'you', if we must be modern). Whilst one accurately might not expect Muslims to be Arabic (most are Asian), one cannot help expecting them not to be white, as many of them here are.

I suppose in this climate some might think that last paragraph either racist or Islamophobic. That would be unbelievable if it weren't believable.

I may not be going to Saudi Arabia after all....visa worries and troubles. But we shall see.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Currently I enjoy Ohrid, Macedonia. It's delightful here, even with too many tourists. I have yet to fully explore. The young English, Welsh and Dutch ladies staying in this hostel are delightful looking, and charming to talk to. This was the case even before I dragged on some wacky baccy that an English youth offered me and became even more so subsequently. As is usual in such circumstances I then ate far more than I needed to, but had a feast of a time strolling languidly and wide eyed around the nightlife of Ohrid the unhorrid.

By the way, after Tirana I took a bus to Korca with an American who, no joke, had changed her name from Susan to Artemis. We almost went through with a booking to stay in a grubby, possibly flea ridden, historically protected builing for a stunning 2.5 euros a night. We had planned to escape as much as possible from our disconcerting room by eating, drinking and watching Mr Bean's holiday at the local cinema (delapidated but equipped with a functional-looking popcorn machine). But then we said "f**ck it" or something like that, booked into a nearby proper hotel for 10 euros each, skipped Mr Bean, and skillfully lied to the garrulous owner of the fleapit as to why we were withdrawing our bags from his beautiful dive before the hours of darkness. We must flee to the mountains tonight, we explained, where beauty untold lies, as he himself agreed (In Vospokoja). When he followed us after he saw us clearly walking past the taxi rank that should have taken us there, we reassured him it was to get water. We then sort of hoped he'd lose interest but were not sure he would. But TV, a real live hot shower and AC soon captured our attention.

Actually, to be a nerd, it may not actually have been the owner, but he was certainly associated with the hostel.

Anyway, I have not yet got to the bottom of the intriguing Alexander The Great question, regarding whether his memory should belong to this land or to Greece. Both countries claim to own him, and I can see both countries having the right. In Macedonia's favour Ancient Macedonia was more outside than inside the borders of modern Greece, whilst on the other hand the culture of ancient Macedonia was far more Greek than Slav (indeeed it wasn't slav at all). But given that Alexander III (as the Maccy's call him) invaded and crushed the Greek city states one might wonder why the Greeks want to be associated with him at all? Ah yes, because he then imperiously took Greek culture and values across the known world. Silly me, nothing like a bit of basking in imperial adventurism to reassure you to subjection

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Currently I'm in Tirana, Albania and am not sure how much time I'll have on this computer. All has gone well. Barring sunburn at Corinth and the loss of my shorts at Delphi that is. I have been further enraptured by the stern, firm, ever so graceful beauty of the Ancient Greeks.

Geoffrey wants the computer so I must fly. Another day trip in Albania and then onto Montenegro. After that I am not sure..any ideas?