Short Fuses In Kotor & Bar–  Implosions & Explosions in the Balkans  (A Balkan Affair #16)

The Kotor Bus Station had come alive, not with the sound of engines or passengers clamoring to climb aboard buses. Instead, explosions began erupting all around the station. The metal canopies above the platforms magnified every boom. The noise gave a sensation that peril was close at hand. This was quite true. Two pranksters were holding everyone hostage in the fireworks funhouse they had spontaneously created. The once scattered groups of passengers began to coalesce around one another. One group took to the station’s waiting room, while others tried to ignore what was becoming increasingly obvious, the pranksters had no intention of letting up. At least not until their stash of fireworks was exhausted. One of the pranksters grew increasingly bold, soon he was not just lighting fireworks, but tossing them around. Including one close to the feet of a man smoking a cigarette. Within seconds there was a boom. The intended victim stopped smoking long enough to look around for the culprit. Spying the prankster in a matter of seconds, he decided to ignore the antics. I wish that I could have done the same.

Explosive Beauty - Kotor

Explosive Beauty – Kotor

The Montenegrin Mentality – Enjoy Rather Than Endure
Standing at the Kotor Bus Station, while watching fireworks be thrown around like they were candy, was both alarming and instructive. While the situation could have resulted in fisticuffs or bodily harm, it instead became a frivolous example of an attitude that I secretly found admirable. The two men tossing the fireworks did it with barely disguised glee. While those of us who were enduring the amateur pyrotechnics did not enjoy it at the time, I could not help but think that many approved of their antics. On one hand, the brazen attitude of the primitive pyrotechnicians was a little scary for those who were almost caught in the crossfire. Conversely, nothing would have given me greater pleasure than if I would have had the courage to join in on the fun. They were having a good time so why not the rest of us. Something told me that living beside the Adriatic Sea and specifically in Montenegro would make most people take a more relaxed and cheerful attitude towards life. Kotor, like Montenegro, is the kind of place where life is to be enjoyed rather than endured.

Kotor enjoys a charmed life. I like to think of it as the Adriatic Coast’s California, where the spectacular natural beauty and languid rhythms of life set the populace at ease. How could Kotor’s inhabitants do otherwise? They are surrounded by towering mountains on one side and a beautiful bay on the other. Squeezed in between is a medieval Old Town par excellence.  The side effects of such a setting make, at least on the surface, people nonchalant and seemingly indifferent to stress. The latter was on display at the Kotor bus station the day of my departure. Tossing fireworks was a way to get a good laugh. Throwing them near an unsuspecting person was guaranteed fun. The victim may have wanted to retaliate, but he did not appear to care. First surprise, then a bit of concern, followed by feigned anger and then indifference. He must have realized that the fireworks were thrown all in the name of good fun, adding a bit of drama to the day. Fireworks seemed to be a national pastime in Montenegro, offering shock therapy to the bus station and the nation at large.

To be enjoyed rather than endured - Kotor

To be enjoyed rather than endured – Kotor

Coming In Hot – One Explosion After Another 
The week I spent in Montenegro was accompanied by one explosion after another. It started in the smoky streets of Cetinje where kids were constantly setting off fireworks. It was nothing to hear booms and bursts from midday to midnight. Sometimes while walking the streets of Cetinje, I would see fantastic bursts of light flicker and fade into the night sky. In Kotor, my visit was accompanied by a symphony of explosions. As evening fell upon the town, the series of propulsive blasts grew in number. Fireworks were the opposite of those smoke-filled cafes where Kotorians seemed to spend every waking moment of their free time. Relaxation at cafes and explosions in the streets. In the former smoke rose from cigarettes, whereas in the latter it burst forth from fireworks. My final experience of Kotor at the bus station was fitting, for this was a town all lit up for Orthodox Christmas. As the bus pulled away from the station I still heard muffled bursts, the backbeat of a national passion for pyrotechnics.

As I headed further south along the coast, I wondered what might be in store for me at the seaside port of Bar. I should have known by now that Bar would be bursting with life just like Kotor. The number of explosions increased in drama and frequency. As Christmas was but a few hours away, the reason for celebrating increased exponentially as did the explosions. Across the city I heard the same sounds that had followed me throughout Montenegro. Darkened streets would suddenly come to life with flashes of bright white light, a miraculous bit of incandescence that would suddenly disappear into the darkness. Above tree line the sky would suddenly be shattered. This was followed by a drizzle of tracer fire that rained down upon the empty streets. The thundering booms a statement of national exuberance.

The Balkans – A World Lit Only By Fireworks
Hours later, Christmas Day dawned with a reverential silence. As I made my way to the train station for the famed Bar to Belgrade express, there was nothing but quiet. I was leaving Montenegro, that frivolous war zone of fireworks. A half day later, I crossed the border into Serbia. Not long thereafter I made the acquaintance of a young Serb from the border town of Priboj. When I mentioned my surprise at seeing him traveling back to Belgrade on Christmas, he told me that university classes started again the next day. He then decided to show me how his town of 20,000 had celebrated Christmas. Using his phone, he proceeded to show me a video of the town’s Orthodox Cathedral rendered nearly imperceptible by a miraculous display of smoke and fire. Here once again was the Balkans, a world lit only by fireworks.

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