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Madison Morrison’s Web / Sentence of the Gods / Life / Central Europe

Central Europe

Madison Morrison

1  Macedonia: Regime Change on a Rainy Night in Skopje

Alexander’s qualities at the age of twenty, in administration, hunting and war, were already known to the Macedonian people. Shortly after we cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, police stop the train, enter and demand author’s passport. He had been trained for kingship as a Royal Page and King’s Deputy. Against his better judgment, assured of a prompt return, he relinquishes it. As commander of the Companion cavalry at Chaeronea and leading envoy at Athens. When it is retained far longer that it should be. In 340 he fought in Illyria and Thrace. On the advice of his 23-year-old Macedonian compartment mate, wise beyond his years, author leaves the train, pursues the police and retrieves the document. Founding the first of his cities called “Alexandria.”

Upon the assassination of Philip, Alexander immediately sat on the royal throne, his supporters congregating about him, and in due course was elected King. Lightning streaks the sky – we are under way again – followed by thunder. The assassin had been killed, and three rivals to the throne, accused of complicity in Philip’s assassination, were executed after his state funeral: It is already raining in Skopje (compartment mate has learned by cell phone from his girlfriend). Two princes of the Macedonian royal house, and Amyntas, son of Perdiccas, for whom Philip had at first acted as regent. Before long we ourselves will be in the capital, though at this late hour transportation and lodging had best be arranged in advance, and so MM’s new friend begins to plot on his behalf in Skopje.

Later Olympias, who resembled Clytemnestra in ferocity, killed the infant daughter of Cleopatra and compelled the mother to commit suicide. He calls author’s cheap hotel to determine its rate and secure a reservation. When Philip was murdered, Alexander addressed the envoys of the Greek states in attendance. After we arrive in Skopje, friend walks author through train and bus reservation counters and the 24-hour currency exchange. He bade them remember the good will and the treaty of alliance between Macedon and the Greek League. Helps him ward off the solicitation of taxi drivers (“Do not speak to them in English,” he warns him). The news of Philip’s assassination delighted his opponents. And negotiates a price (100 dinars) for the short trip to nearby hotel.

Demosthenes, who received early information, pretended that Zeus and Athena, appearing to him in a dream. Spurning driver’s offer to carry backpack, to place it in his trunk. Had prophesied some happy event. Rejecting his assertion that the actual fare is “1000 dinar.” When the event was known, he put on a garland of flowers. Keeping an eye out for misdirection, refusing conversation in English by responding in Russian, Chinese, German and French. The Assembly then voted a crown to the assassin. Author defuses various scams and reaches his hotel safely in a rainstorm, where he offers the taxi driver ten dinars instead of 100, a rather effective move, since, properly chastised and a little disconcerted, the poor fellow now feels fortunate to be getting his 100 dinars without further discussion.

2  Skopje: Still Raining

Before long Alexander was on the march with a Macedonian army. The rain recommencing today, it will be an uneventful stay in Skopje. He turned the Thessalian position by cutting steps up the precipitous face of Mt. Ossa and led his men over the mountainside into Thessaly. Nonetheless author is up and out to describe the mélange of autos parked before the hotel and adjacent shops. Giving way, the Thessalian League elected him archon for life. Dodging the drizzle, he retreats to the overhang of an apartment balcony to catalogue the many vehicles along this stretch of a well-trafficked side street. The Amphictyonic Council of Thermopylae recorded its wish that he become the hegemon of the Greek League, and Ambracia accepted his generous offer of a free pardon.

Before an artist’s supply store that includes Macedonian folk dolls:

Before Astoria Agency (“The Best Real Estate”):

Before a clothing store that repeats “Camel” four times in every window pane:

Before a store showing window frames and doors:

Before a sign reading “Barcaffé”:

Before a store selling youth athletic paraphernalia:

In the window of the store a funky skate board says, “Skate boarding is no crime.”

3  Bulgaria: Still Raining

Our departure from Skopje for Sofia is delayed by 45 minutes, while we visit an automotive garage that services heavy vehicles. When Alexander pitched camp outside of Thebes. Once under way our bus labors disturbingly on a not so steep grade. The Athenians took refuge behind their walls. Having left the capital 30 kilometers behind. And sent an embassy to apologize. We encounter another ominous sign: Demosthenes, who had been elected to serve, turned back half-way. Another Macedonian bus has pulled off the road. Before the envoys arrive, Thebes had capitulated. Its passengers, probably giving up on being rescued anytime soon, have set out on foot. Alexander accepted the apology of Athens. Presumably to increase their chances of successfully hitchhiking a ride. Convened the Council of the Greek league. Either back home or to their destinations. And announced his intention of continuing the policy of his father. We continue to encounter them. He did not propose to punish Thebes and the other recalcitrant states. Strung out along the highway for the next five kilometers. This council too then elected him hegemon for the further prosecution of the war against Persia. Singly, in pairs, in groups of three or four. And confirmed the regulations which he had put forward. But what we have witnessed proves to be no analogy, for at last our bus arrives in Sofia without event, if an hour late.

Athens and other states conferred honors upon him. Throughout the day it has barely drizzled. And accepted their obligation under the terms of the Greek League to provide contingents. Only as we are entering the outskirts of Sofia. Alexander returned with his army and arranged for the assassination of Attalus. Does the rain begin to fall hard enough for pedestrians to take out their umbrellas. Whose treasonable negotiations with Demosthenes were now well known. By the time that we reach the bus station. Before he crossed over to Asia. Author is happy to have been supplied with address of a cheap hotel and to find a reasonable taxi driver willing to turn on his meter. All male members of Attalus’s family were put to death. Before long he is delivered to the Ametist Hotel, modernly equipped with a free wireless Internet connection. In accordance with the Macedonian law of treason. Fortunate to find next door an affiliated restaurant, no umbrella required to reach it in the rain. During the remainder of his life. One’s first impression of the Bulgarians, confirmed at the desk, is that they are optimistic. No one in Macedonia conspired against the throne. And properly so: In spring 335 Alexander conducted his first campaign as commander of the army. For slowly the countryside and cityscape are being refurbished and expanded, though one still sees many signs of decay:

Which Philip had trained to such a superb pitch of efficiency. Buildings in total disrepair, or vacant, or in the process of being demolished. His aim was to punish the Triballi, who had attacked Philip during the remarkable campaign of 339. Along with the nostalgic lingering of the Soviet age: of its collective enterprise, its collective dwelling, its collective style. Alexander left Antipater in Macedonia and Permenio in Asia. At the hotel one inquires if a favor might be possible: For he intended to show his own ability as a general in terrain where he had served under Philip’s command. A call to the train station in Bulgarian to determine. The army included the best heavy infantry, the Hypaspists in three battalions of 1,000 men each. Whether reservations are necessary. Of which the senior battalion was the Guard (agema). Whether the train will leave according to the schedule. Some battalions of the phalanx, each numbering 1,500 men. Whether an extra fee is required to use one’s first class rail pass. A battalion of Agrianian light infantry and one of archers, each 1,000 strong (along with some skirmishers). And if so, whether one must pay the fee in advance. At least two squadrons of Companion cavalry, each some 200 strong, plus light cavalry from Upper Macedonia and the subject peoples. “Anything is possible,” says Anita, a 21-year-old student. Perhaps 2,000 in all.

Majoring in Tourism at the local university. He marched rapidly by the road through Philippopolis towards Mt. Haemus. She has not yet had the benefit of comparative travel. Where he found his way barred, probably at the Kajan pass on the trade-route from Aenus to the Danube estuary. After she makes her call and efficiently provides the information required. By a large force of Thracians escorting a caravan of merchandise. Cheerfully helps with coffee machine. The enemy held a steep escarpment, from which they prepared to launch their heavy wagons on to the Macedonian infantry. Sees to it that author goes on line. Alexander ordered the phalangites to open their ranks and let the wagons through. He rewards her with an anecdote. Or, where space was not available, to crouch forming a “testudo,” or covering with their shields. “In Western Europe,” he reminisces, the locution of choice is quite the contrary. So that they should pass over their backs. “C’est pas possible!” they say; “Das ist nicht möglich”; or, in their unidiomatic English translations, “Eet es note pose-ee-bool.” His tactics were successful. Equally cheerful is the waitress, in white-and-black-striped blouse, skirt and tights, at the restaurant, where to eat “is possible,” but the Euro, recently accepted by Bulgaria’s government (she reports apologetically), “is not acceptable here.” The wagons caused no casualties.

4  A Foggy 7:00 am Outing in Sofia

Finally it stops raining. Then, while the archers provided covering cross-fire, he led the Hypaspists and Agrianians to take up the assault and carried the pass with a heavy loss to the Thracians. But now the city is completely shrouded in a cold early morning fog. When he entered the Triballi, between Mt. Haemus and the Danube. Author clears a park bench of excess water by sweeping it off with his hand. The king of the Triballi tribe took refuge on an island in the river. So that he may take a seat in Banski Square, a very Bulgarian affair. Sending a portion of his forces back to sever Alexander’s lines of communication. An ancient public building, made by sandwiching courses of red brick between blocks of white limestone, has been fronted with, and obscured by, billboards. Alexander retraced his steps. “You are not alone,” reads a Lion’s Club advertisement. To find the enemy holding a strong position at the mouth of a glen. A 60-year-old woman, her short hair bright red, crosses the red brick (white-and-black brick ornamented) plaza, her two hands weighed down with shopping bags full of clothing. He then sent a screen of archers and slingers to harass the Triballi troops. Another billboard advertises “New!” (“Nov!”) furniture available at “Stanikov Magazin.” When they retaliated, he retreated.

Ghostly non-descript apartment blocks rise about the public building through the opaque white condensation. Soon his archers, however, were engaged on either flank by the Macedonian cavalry and on their front by a phalanx massed in support. Behind the principal edifice a high industrial smokestack asserts its presence. The heavily armed cavalry, whose chargers were trained to rear and strike with their hooves, spread terror among the tribesmen. A blond woman of 45, in black parka and blue jeans, scampers past to ward off the chill. Three thousand Triballi fled. In hopes of reward four pigeons have congregated about author’s feet. At the Danube, Alexander was joined by a fleet which he had sent through the Black Sea and up the river. Both ends of the principal building’s symmetrical facade, along with its center, are capped with clumsy turrets. But he failed to force a landing on the island. Beneath one, on a billboard advertising Mondo Airlines, a plane tries unconvincingly to fly out of the picture. “A strong desire” (pothos), mentioned now and later by Arrian, the historian of Philip and Alexander, impelled him to cross the Danube. Instead it merely hovers motionlessly five feet in the air. He ferried his infantry across by night. Thirty three-seat benches for citizens surround the plaza.

He surprised an army of Getae, which fled, and he razed the town to the ground. For now, however, this is the pigeons’ proprietary domain, a flock of ten diligently but fruitlessly scouring its well swept bricks. Then the king of the Triballi submitted. Author arises to investigate what looks to be an empty pool with a defunct fountain at its center. These victories of Alexander established the authority of Macedon along the line of the Lower Danube, where the independent tribes paid homage. Not so, for closer inspection shows it to be full of (slightly dirty) water. The Celts sent envoys, and Alexander made treaty with them. The well tiled tank, bordered in marble, is surrounded with thick grass and little hedges. On the bank of the great river he sacrificed to Zeus and Heracles and to the river god Ister. Author also approaches the billboards for closer inquiry. Then he turned his attention westward. Two of six are empty of content except for their gestural surfaces, which suggest the uninspired work of latter-day European abstract-expressionist or color field painters. The campaigns of Alexander here summarized, like those of Marius and Caesar, protected civilization from the migrating tribes of Central Europe. Weathered, wrinkled and peeled, their pale blue, grey and white surfaces are depressing.

During the march, probably over the Shipka pass, towards Agriania and Paeonia, news reached Alexander that the Illyrians of king Cleitus. A burly man. Son of Bardylis, were in revolt. Steps forward in blue, white-trimmed parka. And that the Taulantii farther west and Autariatae to the north were planning to join them. He is carrying a “Coco” bag. Alexander was heavily outnumbered by the Illyrians. Impatiently he knocks on a rust-resistant-red gate, seeking admittance. Who held both the town and the surrounding hills with cavalry, javelin-men and slingers. Only at this close distance can we read the Bulgarian plaque that divulges the building’s identity: But by rapid and orderly maneuvers the Macedonian infantry succeeded in escaping from the impasse without loss.

The Historical Museum of the City of Sofia

It is 7:30. Author sets out in search of more coffee and of livelier signs of Sofia’s contemporary identity. Within two blocks he reaches (located just off a large “square”) a kiosk selling tiny cups of espresso along with candy bars for men on their way to work. Balancing his own plastic cup on a fence erected to prevent pedestrian crossings in this heavily trafficked neighborhood, he pauses to study its complex extensive geography.

On the left rises a monumental neo-classical “block,” a huge building named (or more likely renamed) “Sheraton Hotel,” its bilingual sign all but illegible under a freshly descended blanket of fog. The western frontier of Macedonia was now secure. Sofia’s motorists have turned their headlights on. The pressure of the Taulantii on Epirus was eased, and Alexander, who had set out in the spring merely as the successor of Philip by autumn had been accepted as a commander of equal brilliance. A “Techno-Polis” van, apparently full of commuters, stops at a red light, waiting between two cars to continue. During his absence from Macedonia rumors that Alexander had been killed in action encouraged his opponents in the Greek states. An orange tram passes, clattering on up an incline into the “square.” Demosthenes obtained 300 talents from Darius, which the Assembly officially refused to accept but which Demosthenes himself used to promote action. At the end of this scene is an Orthodox cathedral, almost obscured by tall trees, across from it a large office building, atop which sits a huge blue-and-red “Samsung” sign. He helped some Theban exiles at Athens to return to Thebes and supplied them with arms, bought with Darius’s gold. Author resumes his reconnoitering, turning to his immediate right.

There they caught two officers of the Macedonian garrison unawares, killed them and told the Thebans that Alexander was dead. Dominating the near ground is a new “UniCredit Bulbank” in neo-moderne style. The Thebans then laid siege to the Cadmea. At least eight stories tall (its stories cannot all be differentiated, due to the originality of its design). Athens voted to send an army to Thebes, manned her fleet and sent an embassy to ask Persia for alliance (as, probably, Thebes did also). Across the avenue from the bank sits a medieval church, almost submerged below ground level, its walls made of individual red, white and black rounded stones archaeologically restored. The Peloponnesian states, when asked by the Theban Assembly and by Demosthenes to send help. Black-clad, mostly older citizens, dodging trams arriving on a bias, negotiate a crossing of the principal avenue, some of them now pausing for the morning paper, others at an ATM machine, yet others for coffee or liquor or flowers at sidewalk kiosks. Did not comply. On the blue electric tram’s side reads an ad for a battery called “MonBat.” Except that an Arcadian force came as far as the Isthmus and turned back. Author decides that instead of dodging trams he will proceed farther into the square by using the metro station entrance and exit.

The news reached Alexander at Pelium. Alternately lining the underground passage are two repeated ads showing (1) a skateboard artist performing an improbably athletic feat and (2) an already scantily clad blonde threatening to remove her bra in promotion of “Flirt Vodka.” For three days he waited to see if Thebes would sue for terms. So as to register these phenomena author takes seat on a ledge of red-black-and-white marble surrounding a fountain, whose waters gurgle up and out of the top of a metallic half sphere to cascade down over abstract steel armatures designed in an advanced Soviet style. But the returned exiles, whose policy was to restore the Boeotian League, persuaded the Theban Assembly to keep quiet. Ignoring the display, early commuters hustle by, dowdily clad, subdued in visage, but to all appearances not unhappy (at least not by comparison with most urban dwellers). On the fourth day the assault began. Having finished a second plastic cup of espresso, author prepares to climb on into the outdoor public space, where he immediately encounters the stone-clad face of an older official building, from whose fifth story down to whose first have been hung two bright banners. The Thebans, having built stockades to confine the garrison in the Cadmea, manned their field defenses outside the city walls.

The first bears the colors, white, red and green, of Bulgaria, the second, the blue of the European Union, including at its center the emblematic twelve-starred circle. Part of the Macedonian infantry managed to penetrate these defenses. A really gorgeous, tall, bare-midriffed Bulgarian woman prances by. Alexander sent in the Agrianians and archers as well. Maximizing the impact of her high heels on the pavement. When the Thebans began to master them. Plus the effect of her tightly clad calves, thighs and pubis on the viewer. And committed more of their troops. To say nothing of her bulging breasts and pouty lips. Alexander charged with the rest of the phalanx. The side of an acidic green tram behind her advertises “FordFiesta.” The Theban forces broke and fled. On a billboard rising to one side in the square. The Macedonians entering the gates on the heels of the fugitives. Is represented a brand of ice cream cone called “Magnum” (in Roman letters). Fierce fighting between the fugitives and the Macedonians ensued in the streets. With a brief Bulgarian commentary (in Cyrillic letters). During which the Greeks supporting Alexander were more conspicuous than the Macedonians at slaughtering their enemies. The two colorful banners adorn a drab “Ministry of State Policy for Disasters and Accidents.”

By the evening of the same day all resistance came to an end. Author approaches the door of the building to peer into the agency’s sterile but efficient antechamber. Six thousand Thebans lay dead. As he moves a few paces down to record his impression, a uniformed guard opens the door and politely inquires of his intentions (at 7:45 am). Over 30,000 were taken prisoner. Meanwhile an eighteen-year-old boy strides by briskly in a sweatshirt reading “Rescue.” Of the Macedonians 500 were killed. A black-haired 25-year-old woman, in short black leather jacket, tight black acrylic pants and pointed black leather shoes, descends from an orange tram to cross the zebra stripes. As the revolt of Thebes was an act of treachery in the war declared by the Greek League against Persia, Alexander referred the matter to the Council of the League, as whose hegemon he had acted. She mounts a sidewalk tiled with interlocking concrete bricks and continues. In view of Thebes’s recent history, the Council decided to garrison the Cadmea, raze the city, sell the men, women and children of the citizen population into slavery, banish any surviving Thebans from Greek soil, and allot the lands of Thebes to her neighbors. “Change,” reads an orange sign on a blue ground: “Euro 19.49 / $ 19.40 / Pound 18.85,” etc.

The responsibility for the elimination of Thebes by andrapodismos lay formally with the League but morally with Alexander. On a poster pasted to the inside of the currency exchange’s door is a theatrical ad reading “VIVATE together.” Earlier, in 336, Alexander had been moved to pardon the Thebans. To the right of the door vertically descending letters read “CHAN,” the part of the plastic panel bearing the terminal “GE” broken out to reveal within the bottoms of four vertical fluorescent bulbs. He could have done so again in 335. Purchasing his first International Herald Tribune of this trip, author takes a seat in “Bar Happy Grill” (the middle word circled), an imitation Hard Rock Café, across from the squat Orthodox church, before which electric trams in different colors continue to arrive from two directions. A militarist might argue that after she had committed treachery against Macedonia three times, Thebes merited the customary punishment of the fourth century. Turning away from the outdoor scene and putting the indoor scene on hold, he spreads the paper flat on the table: As an act of deliberate policy the destruction of the city after her surrender weakened the possibility of the cooperation between Macedon and the Greek states which Philip had hoped to achieve.

“‘Russian Reforms Derailed,’ Bush says,” reads its headline. On the wall opposite, in this, the no smoking section, are Hollywood movie posters from earlier eras depicting stars smoking cigarettes. “He Urges Putin,” reads the subhead, “To Cooperate on Missile Defense.” Red-haired Rita Hayworth, “La Vedette Atomique / dans Gilda / avec Glen Ford,” leans back in her white silk, low-cut gown, a white, red-lined cape trailing from one hand, a lighted cigarette in the other. The Herald Tribune article is accompanied by a photo that shows President Bush and the First Lady seated with the Czech president and his spouse in the Prague Castle. On the wall of “Be Happy” hangs a real acoustic guitar outlined in blue and yellow neon. “On Tuesday George W. Bush delivered a double-barreled message to Vladimir Putin of Russia, two days before the leaders are to meet in Germany.” “Leave Her to Heaven,” reads a poster, “with Gene Tierney, Cornell Wilde and Jean Crain,” red-haired Jean’s breasts at the level of, and almost touching, Gene’s square jaw. “Assuring the Russian President that he has nothing to fear from a missile defense system.” Author’s “Happy Breakfast” arrives. “But also chiding him for derailing democratic reforms.” Served by a waitress in red-black-and-white flowered blouse and red miniskirt. “On the first day of his eight-day tour through Europe.” Author tucks into the high-protein, low-carb fare.

As a white tram pauses, its side adorned with alluring ads for negligees, he pushes the paper aside to enjoy sausage, scrambled eggs and bacon. On the monitor above the bar of the restaurant, skinny models display “f people Fashions.” Breakfast finished, author returns to the paper: “Bush wasted little time in prodding Putin to cooperate with the United States on missile defenses in Poland and here in the Czech Republic.” “Natural Born Killers”: “The media made them superstars / starring Tommy Lee Jones,” followed by a wimpy photo of Michael Jackson. On-the-way-to-work pedestrian traffic has picked up as a disco beat enlivens the faux Hard-Rock interior, where a sultry woman takes a seat at table next to author. “But he also risked provoking the Russian leader.” A video model struts a beige-covered pubic triangle, high beige tops on otherwise translucent stockings and a scandalously skimpy beige bra. “Who is already up in arms over the missile defense plan, by taking Putin to task over human rights.” Humphrey Bogart, a cigarette in his left hand, points his revolver at a 45-degree angle, on a poster whose red letters read “‘Casablanca’” (in quotation marks), “also starring Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.” Supplementing the Hollywood posters are two large color photographs of. “‘My message will be, “Vladimir” (I call him Vladimir) “you shouldn’t fear a missile defense.”’”

(1) An airplane captain revving up his throttle as he takes off, his cockpit and instrument panel aglow with yellow light. “Said Bush, during a morning appearance with leaders of the Czech Republic at the castle high on a hill overlooking Prague.” And (2) The “Colony Hotel,” taken through a fish-eye lens, with a long exposure, so as to streak the street and the hotel front with bands of red, created by the taillights of passing autos. “‘As a matter of fact, why don’t you cooperate with us on a missile defense system?’ he added.” The lingerie video continues with more naughty costumes. “‘Why don’t you participate with The United States?’” A black African model displays triangular panties, a small black-and-white soccer ball affixed to their front. Next to author the Bulgarian woman, in black-and-white gown (as though she had been up all night) puts her purse on the table top and picks up the breakfast menu. “The human rights criticism came just hours later as Bush addressed a group of dissidents and democratic activists from seventeen countries, who had gathered for a conference on democracy in Czernin Palace, in the very room where the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact had been dissolved.” Author exits Bar Happy Grill to reenter the “square,” which is now crowded with full rush hour traffic, pedestrians standing three deep at curbs waiting to cross the streets. Many “Techno-Polis” vans are pausing to deposit their passengers.

Many more taxis and yet more private cars crisscross in seven directions the various intersections that make up this heavily trafficked site. On the way back to his hotel author pauses to regard the monuments at either end of a long concourse. Over an orange tram just arrived, which has neither ads nor graffiti on its sides, he makes out the words “Narodno Sbranie” (Parliament of the People) above the entranceway to an elaborate “wedding-cake” Soviet-style building. On the other side of the square, opposite this people’s palace, rises a black column, atop which on a pedestal stands a woman with flowing robes, her face, breast, forearms, hands and feet gilded. Unlike Gilda, however, she is unabashedly political. “Among the session’s co-chairs was Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident.” And also allegorical: “It was a backdrop laden with symbolism for Bush’s carefully calibrated remark about modern Russia, which was squeezed.” With one outstretched hand she holds the Olive Wreath of Peace. “Into a speech in which the president criticized human rights abuses around the globe.” On the other forearm she allows to perch the grisly Hawk of War. “From North Korea to Burma to Sudan.” Today, as the fog begins to lift, she looks out toward rooftop advertisements for “Activis,” for “Piraeus Hotel,” for “Sunny Day Co.” “He expressed concern about the state of democratic reform not only in Russia but also in China.”

5  The Sofia Echo: “Bush in Bulgaria”

Sofia side street crowded bistro, of a Friday morning at 9:00 o’clock. Georgi hosts George. Through-window construction scene: concrete pillars and bare floors already established. President Purvanov receives his U.S. counterpart George Bush on June 10 and 11. Young dark-skinned workers sweep detritus, shovel sand into concrete mixer. For a visit to be dominated by the themes. Within the bistro, a group of very young people has assembled for coffees, smokes and Cokes, none of them over 25. Of military and security issues. The girls, thin and pretty, are dressed in tank tops or bustiers and exaggeratedly short jackets. And the building of economic cooperation. The music on the radio for now is all Bulgarian.

Sporting single earrings or single-strand silver necklaces, the guys, three of them in orange tee shirts, have rolled up their jean cuffs. Earlier scene, 8:30 am. The girls contest their authority, slapping and cajoling them. Lobby, Princess Hotel and Casino. Everyone is smoking cigarettes. Signs behind the counter: “baggage,” “check in,” “reception,” “check out.” Behind the more affluent bistro youth, the young laborers continue to labor, probably for an hourly wage that would scarcely buy a Coke. Across the street another sign reads “Transfer to Airport,” alongside an ad for rental cars. As we move on past mid-morning, the music lyrics change to English, not hip-hop but Tom Jones singing “Sexbomb, Sexbomb!”

The beer delivery at 10:00, in standard Zaropla, Staropramen and Kamenitza cases, is routinely received. “Tunnel under the Danube.” Within five minutes the individual bottles have been stowed in two refrigerators (at this hour no one drinking beer) by a 40-year-old, formerly sexy woman in short grey hair, white leather jacket and Levis. Eurobridge is reportedly preparing a feasibility study for the construction of a 35 million Euro tunnel to link Bulgaria and Romania under the Danube River, in the Silistra/Calarasi region. Women in their thirties, longer hair dyed red, in a businesslike way walk up the street, then back, their purpose indeterminable, then on past shops selling electronic parts and youth fashion accessories.

6  Serbia: An Equivocal Darkness

Author boards the “Balkan Express 490” (which turns out to be a slow train: six ancient cars, including the locomotive) to lumber out of Sofia for Dragoman (still in Bulgaria), on toward Dimitrovgrad (at the Serb border). Serbia, which only a month ago. Thence to Pirot. Seemed on the verge. Bela Palanka. Of forming a pro-Moscow. Niš. Anti-Western. Stalača. Government. Lapova. Appears now to have turned. And finally to Belgrade. Firmly to the West. We are leaving the mountainous region of extreme Eastern Bulgaria, through which we had labored on our bus ride from Skopje to Sofia.

Thursday the European Union confirmed. Heading northwest across a plain toward the western border of Serbia. That next week. All is not flat. It will resume negotiations. Before long the route begins to rise. Toward an agreement. Along a gentle upward grade. Which is the first step to membership. Rolling grasslands extend several miles. A move seen as a major victory for Boris Tadic. To the low mountains that form the horizon. The reformist president. In these vast spaces it is a mystery. Supported by the United States. Why no animals are grazing (such natural resources for naught?). And the EU.

Our first stop is Dragoman. The EU announcement came. Our view of it limited to the station. A day after Carla Del Ponte. That is, till we start up again to leave the town behind. Chief prosecutor for the United Nations tribunal. From an elevation we look down. On Balkan war crimes. Over the orange tiled roofs of older houses. Had said in Belgrade that she believed the government. Soon we are out again. Would arrest Ratko Mladic. Into a more varied landscape. The wartime commander of the Bosnian Serb Army. Through which we continue to rise. “Within months.” As we approach the mountains again.

Last week. At Dimitrovgrad. The Serb government. We reach the Serbian border, Handed over Zdravko Tolimir. Where we must wait 45 minutes. Another leading war crimes suspect. For inefficient officials to perform their duties. To the international tribunal in The Hague. It has begun to rain, just enough to add aroma to the atmosphere. Tolimir’s arrest. Within moments the sky clears. And the prospect of Mladic’s apprehension. At the station a freight train next to us. Represent a remarkable turnaround. Has pulled off onto the siding. For Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia’s conservative prime minister.

In German, French and Italian, stenciled on its cars. Who withheld cooperation with the Hague tribunal. Reads the following message, in German, French and Italian: Während der Fahrt müssen die Sheibewände geschlossen sein. Prompting the EU for more than a year. Le wagon ne doit circuler qu’après fermeture des parois latérales coulissantes. To suspend talks on a pre-membership agreement. Il carro deve circolare soltanto dopo chiusura delle pareti laterale scorrevoli. The bloc has made full cooperation with the court a condition for closer ties. But in neither Bulgarian, Serbian nor English.

Del Ponte joined a chorus of comments from senior European and United States officials. At Pirot the little stucco houses with orange-tiled roofs. Praising Serbia’s renewed cooperation with the tribunal. Have moved up the mountainside to look down on us. “I welcome the progress that Serbia has made.” As we leave the town behind, our rate of ascent increases. “Since the establishment of the new government.” The narrow road comes down to join us. “In its cooperation with The International Criminal Tribunal.” We begin our ascent — in it together for the long run. “For the Former Yugoslavia.”

Her previous visits were at her own initiative. Soon we part from the road and are traveling with the river alone. Kostunica, she said, had told her that cooperation with the Hague tribunal was one of his government’s main priorities. We have slowed to a pace no faster than the speed with which the small stream’s waters are flowing. That the key to tracking down Mladic, accused of orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre, was Tolimir’s arrest. Enabling us to study the leafy corn planted earlier this spring in reddish-brown fields. In which 8,000 Muslims had been executed by Bosnian Serb forces.

To look into the eyes of a man in an orange shirt leaning on the guard rail, who is standing in front of his red car. “I believe he will be arrested within the next three months,” said Del Ponte. To observe as a woman pulls up and gets out of her own, yellow car. The prosecutor is to leave her post in mid September. To watch as on the roof of a blue car parked along the main street of the village a tabby cat arises from a nap and stretches. On Tuesday Serbian investigators began looking into a possible mass grave near the Kosovo border. In this countryside, there is not much agriculture to describe.

Where they say up to 500 Kosovo Albanians. A field of kale, two monarch butterflies supervising it. Executed by Serb forces during the 1999 conflict may be buried. A new cherry orchard, its trees planted in perfectly regular rows. Government officials cite this inquiry. A farmer and his wife, both grey-haired, picnicking on a crust of bread and a bottle of wine. As proof of their commitment to prosecute war crimes. Seated in the grass, leaning together against a dilapidated wagon. Dating from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Its wheels removed, the boards of its sides caved in, overgrown with tall grass.

Everything that has been planted in this region is being cultivated by hand. Many commentators here are skeptical, however, about Kostunica’s apparent change of heart. Except for several ambiguously burnt out buildings (from lightning, arson, carelessness) there is no damage that could even remotely be attributed to war. They say that cooperation with the tribunal is more a reflection of his determination to stay in power. Many bridges are new, but not many houses. Than a new commitment to the court. Strikingly, no more than two or three percent of the total landscape is under cultivation.

Tolimir’s arrest follows the creation in mid-May of a new government. At Niš we encounter the first urban agglomeration. That groups Kostunica’s Serbian Democratic Party. A family of gypsies boards the train (the children barefooted) to occupy together a first class compartment. With the Democratic Party led by President Boris Tadic. On the outskirts of this little city some industry is evident. In return for cooperation with the court. Though in factories that belong to another era. Tadic’s party (which wants closer ties with the EU) agreed that Kostunica could remain prime minister.

Everything visible to the casual observer might be from a century ago, except for the 25-year-old automobiles. Kostunica’s appointees also control the Ministry of the Interior. Instead of proceeding farther. And the Security Information Agency, or BIA. We back out of Niš. Which are seen as the key instruments for tracking down war crimes suspects. To continue along the second side of an isosceles triangle that does not register on the larger map of Serbia. The two sides. (Nor do Stalača and Lapova.) Had been locked in fruitless negotiations. Our final two scheduled stops before we arrive in Belgrade.

Early last month Kostunica’s party struck a deal with the Radical Party over the election of a new parliamentary speaker. Having napped through Bela Palanka. Prompting alarm among western governments. Author may also nap through Stalača, Lapova. This appeared to have forced Tadic’s hand. And the rest of what lies between here and the end of our journey. Two days after the leader of the Radical Party, Tomislav Nikolic, was elected as speaker of Parliament with Democratic Party support. We are under way again, picking up speed. Tadic’s party gave in to most of Kostunica’s demands.

Though much of the sky is showing blue, nonetheless rain begins to fall on us again. Nikolic was subsequently replaced by a Democratic Party member, Oliver Dulic. We slow and stop to let a freight train, drawn by a red electric engine, pass — an interminable process. “He is the master of the slow political game,” Sasa Mirkovic, the general manager of B92, a TV and radio network that is frequently critical of Kostunica, said of the prime minister. At last we chug off again. “When you think he is lost, he finds a strange exit.” Two hours later author is awakened briefly by the three-minute stop at “Stalača.”

Media commentators also said that Kostunica’s priority was to ensure that Kosovo remained within Serbia. Another half hour goes by. And cooperated with The Hague and the West. We cross a moderate sized river, a train passing us on the bridge over it. Could easily fall victim to his strategy that the province be retained. There is still an hour to go till the arrival time listed on our schedule, which we have fallen behind considerably. The United States and the European Union support a U.N. plan under which the European Union would supervise Kosovo’s independence for a limited time.

Now the conductor tells us that we will be at least an hour and a half late. “From a human rights point of view.” “Relax,” he says. “Enjoy the landscape.” “It is very difficult to accept that our prime minister.” Accordingly author arises from his seat in the stuffy compartment to lean out the window across the passageway and observe it. Could have been so close to the Radicals. Though not especially impressive, in any way. And now have made it his priority to cooperate with The Hague.” The view out the window does at least represent Nature: irrepressible, alien, familiar and yet unfathomable.

Said Natasa Kandic. Like existence itself, congenial and yet so strange. The Director. How is it that we manage to live as part of this natural world, its features somehow rendering our merely human world trivial? Of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade. One doubts that we understand heaven and earth — or even our own condition. A group of lobbyists. Yet this does not mean that the world, or we, are meaningless, or absurd. Who work for the prosecution. The night continues to fall, neither tethering us to morbidity nor releasing us from it. Of war crimes in Serbia. The darkness of Nature is equivocal.

7  Belgrade: “Recognizing the Best among Us”

Early morning outing, up Kralja Petra, a pleasant street rechristened, we are told, from “Marshall Tito Avenue” to the name of a nineteenth-century king. Persia had been at war with the allied powers. We head towards the river Sava, then take a right downhill to the entrance into the infamous Kalemegdan Citadel, high above, a fortress contested historically 115 times. Macedon and Greece. By far too many enemies to mention. Since 337. (See the history books, tourist literature, or, nowadays, the official web site of the city of Belgrade.) The satraps had failed to break Parmenio’s control of the Asiatic side of the Hellespont. On our way to the entrance to the Citadel we make a mistaken turn, arriving instead at the entrance to the Cervantes Institute. Darius had not manned the Phoenician fleet to support the satraps in Ionia or encourage Athens to join Thebes in her revolt.

Once properly oriented, we have begun the rugged climb up a staircase constructed with multiple baffles. The short-sighted policy of Darius left the initiative with Alexander. The name for this staircase, in English translation (says a plaque), is “Big Southwestern Front Stairway Descent” (however high we must ascend it), “Dating to ‘Around 1760.’” The national arm of Persia was cavalry, well trained and well mounted but less suitably equipped. Before long we have reached a sufficient elevation to view the river and at least the riparian skyline on its farther bank, of New Belgrade. Even the finest cavalry, which wore armor of mail, used javelins and relied on scimitars for close fighting. Parked below, on this bank, is a large blue-cabbed truck, whose orange trailer reads “Continental.” The average Persian trooper wore turban, quilted tunic and trousers.

A sudden turn of the pathway leads us backwards. Whereas the Macedonian wore helmet and cuirass. From the base of white marble steps we view four bronze busts. And he fought with javelin and scimitar against the cornel wood spear and sword. Sculpted and mounted against a high fortifying wall. Of the heavy Macedonian trooper or the lance and sword of the lancer. All four, in Serbian only, described as great heroes in the resistance “against Fascism.” Since the battle of Cunaxa, Persia had relied mainly on Greek mercenary hoplites. The next staircase we also decline to mount, since it appears to lead only to a temporary stasis in our ascent. The hordes of native infantry that she could raise in her empire were much inferior in quality. Yet as we turn the corner and reach another staircase it seems prudent to mount this elevation on our way to the higher fortress.

Alexander, counting on the striking power of a comparatively small army. The plaza is hosting an extensive outdoor photographic exhibition of other world sites: Required full strength of the Macedonian and Thessalian cavalry. The Belgrade Chamber of Commerce Awards. But only a part of the infantry available in Macedon’s empire and Greece. “The World Trade Center, New York, United States; “Enclosed Neolithic tombs, Tassili N’Ajjer, Algeria”; “Shantytown of Guayaquil, Guayas, Ecuador,” etc. Recognizing the Best among Us, reads a headline. Author turns out of preference to examine the actual rivers (Sava and Danube) as a clock chimes 7:00 am. (The Belgrade Times, June 9, 2007.) From this new elevation one can see a little more of New Belgrade and more of the bridges leading to it. “Hyacinths on the Nile”; “Brickyard, Agra, India”; “View of Venice.”

The organization of the numbers of the army which opened the campaign in Asia Minor was as follows. Author turns back again to mount higher up a sidewalk, past pigeons, past a non-descript statue, on toward the Military Museum. Veselin Jevrosmovic, president of ComTrade, studied management at the University of Florida. By further twists and turns we have arrived at a monument titled on one side in Serbian, on the other, in French. “À la France,” it reads, “MXMXXX.” Cast in bronze, set atop a ten-meter marble pedestal, floats an heroic feminine figure in the early monumental Soviet style, muscular, in the agony of struggle and flight, her robes flowing with a carved wooden starchiness. The heavy cavalry comprised 1,800 Companions and 1,800 Thessalians. As a student in 1986 he began distributing the first personal computers to Central American countries.

Twenty truncated monumental evergreen topiary cones lead off in two directions, toward the Military Museum, which has mounted an exhibition of early twentieth-century weaponry, including the early machinegun, and away from it, back into the modern city. The former commanded by Philotas, son of Parmenio, consisted of the Royal Squadron, 300 strong, under the command of Cleitus, and seven squadrons of 150 to 200 men. Author chooses first to consider the Military Museum, though doubtless it will not yet be open at this hour. In 1988 he founded his first company in Germany. In the event, he passes it by, taking instead a bridge over a large moat, within which, of all things, are two clay tennis courts, both being utilized, one by two mature if amateurish players, the other by a fit but white-haired tennis coach giving lessons to two advanced twelve-year-old boys.

Yet ten years later he founded the company that would become the leading brand name in information and communication technologies throughout Southeastern Europe. The two young players are in the process of gathering up into an elevated basket the several dozen bright yellow tennis balls that the coach has been feeding to one of the boys, so as to give him pointers on his forehand. The lancers and light horse from Upper Macedonia, Paeonia and Thrace, perhaps 1,400 strong, and the Greek League and Greek mercenary cavalry, 500 strong. We have reached The History Museum, also closed at this hour, but showing, on either side of its entrance, posters of a mastodon and a bison. Brought the total cavalry force to a little over 5,000 men. We pause to consider two basketball courts in another moat, the grass around their perimeters being mowed by a groundskeeper.

A plaque with a map to the left of an alley leading to “The Upper Town” of the Belgrade Fortress, informs us that we are about to enter it through the “Inner Stamboul Gate.” It might be said that no other company has done so much. “You are here,” reads a large red arrow, helpfully. To push Serbia into the new millennium. As we are about to pass through the arched stone gateway, on our way to the “Sahat Tower,” i. e., doubtless, the “Clock Tower” which we have already had report from, before we leave, we study a small photo of it against a dark blue midday sky, as above we look at the tower itself, on the right, against a lighter blue morning sky. The heavy infantry were 24,000 in number. As we approach the actual gate and tower we first pause to look down into yet another moat containing artillery and tanks from World War II, repainted with enamel, thereby turning them into art.

Half of the infantrymen were Macedonian, half Greek, each armed in their traditional manner. The rays of the sun glint off the shiny surfaces of these museum pieces, producing a slightly disturbing display. Another of our managers of the year is Svetlana Vukajlovic, director of the Republic Institute for Health Insurance. We pass on through the tunnel-like “gate” and emerge at another plaque, which informs us that next on the curatorial agenda are “Gunpowder Magazine,” “Dizdar’s Tower” (“Since 1964 it has housed the National Observatory”) and the “Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.” Svetlana, a lawyer by training, is presently working towards her Ph.D. We proceed directly ahead for another prospect of the actual river and the modern city. She has been in leadership positions since 1995. Nicanor commanded the three battalions of the Hypaspists.

The view from above the ramparts is of another arm of the river, as it debouches into a much broader flood. As the director of Zepter Insurance, the director of development for Delta insurance . . . The cityscape of New Belgrade further articulates itself in a rather uniformly unimaginative way. The Greek League hoplites may have numbered 7,000 and the Greek mercenary hoplites, 5,000. Here we consider a choice between a trip to a promontory for a more official overview and a climb up another rampart to unknown ends. Ancillary units, totaling some 8,000 men — Agrianian javelin men, archers, peltests, slingers, surveyors, sappers and siege-engineers — were drawn mainly from the Balkan dependencies of Macedon but also included Greeks serving as mercenaries. We exercise both choices, since exercising both represents another possibility.

Among other awards given by the Chamber of Commerce were those to: The General Staff, headed by Parmenio, and the entourage of Alexander, who were drawn from the ranks of the King’s Companions. Telekom Serbia, now in its 20th year of operation. The first leads us into a universal panorama whereby we move from right to left (the view itself moving from left to right across our personal opticon), as well as up (a pathway) and down (a staircase). Plus the secretariat under Eumenes of Cardia, who kept the records day by day (the so-called ephemerides), and dealt with routine administration and intelligence. A turnip-turreted church, observed at an earlier plateau, reemerges into view, as does a house constructed of timbers and plaster, seen already as we had entered this level. To Lasta, a perennial Serbian leader in the field of international highway transport.

Most curious, however, is a small bronze reconstruction of the higher fortress, with pyramid-peaked square and oblong towers, its raised bronze inscription exclusively in Serbian. The medical service was led by Greek doctors. The bell in the Bell Tower tolls again, indicating that yet another hour has passed; we leave undescribed the bronze statue that stands atop a classical pedestal to pursue our second “possibility.” A Night to Remember: The Chemical Brothers, Belgrade Arena, June 13 at 20:00. On the way to the ramparts author observes two Citadel guards sitting together on a bench in the shade, the backs of their dark blue shirts reading “Security,” “Security.” The commissariat organized supplies for an army of almost 40,000 men and at least 6,000 war horses and the transport of a siege train. From the ramparts we look out over the river to its forested farther shore.

For many years Serbia was held hostage by its retrograde and aggressive leadership. In the Balkans baggage animals were used. And this reflected on all spheres of social and individual lives. But the Macedonian military road to the Hellespont and the Persian imperial roads in Asia made it possible here to use wheeled transport. Things were passing us by, while our small country remained troubled. We descend to a slightly lower level so as to enter the fortress at its ground level, at the base of a wall, beneath a tower. And even after the reason for such trouble was removed, a positive change didn’t occur overnight. The tower, its inscription only partly visible, says something about the people, and the wall says something about reality. Since it is much more difficult to build than to destroy. On a wooden bridge that slopes downward we cross another moat, its floor grassy.

Whereas Xerxes’ huge army had needed to lay supply dumps in advance and use sea transport. After many years of cultural isolation and mediocrity. Alexander relied on rapid movement and quick victories to gain new areas from which supplies could be requisitioned. Serbia has slowly stepped out of that shadow. Having almost reached our destination, a restaurant, we have run out of moats. In fact he did not need more. “It is not safe to walk on ramparts,” reads a sign. The last award goes to Hotel Radmilovac, an ideal place for a vacation or a business seminar. His small reserve of 70 talents made it impolitic to purchase more than was necessary. Although the restaurant does not open till 9:00 am, author is allowed to take a seat at 8:30 for a free cup of coffee and to peruse a paper whose “cultural” page describes, almost exclusively, visits by foreign rock stars.

8  Belgrade to Timişoara, Romania

At Sea Alexander had a small Macedonian fleet, which naval historians believe was stationed primarily on the Macedonian coast and in the Hellespontine area. It would appear from the Eurail map that we will travel today from Belgrade to the Romanian border, near Vršac, then on to Timişoara; tomorrow, from Timişoara to Arad, Deva, Alba Iulia, Teius, Dej, Vatra Dornei and on to Suceava. The main fleet, supplied by the Greek League, contained 160 triremes, of which twenty were Athenian, in addition to supply vessels. What, might you suppose, do the Roman gods have in store for us?

Persia could have raised thrice as many warships from Cyprus, Phoenicia, Egypt and other maritime satrapies. It takes us forever to escape Belgrade. But in spring 334 she had no large fleet in the Aegean. Though our train departs on time from Belgrade’s dinky, dirty Central Station. Money Persia had in abundance. We inch out across the Sava into New Belgrade, where we wait fifteen minutes, for nothing. Although Alexander had little cash in hand, his mines were productive and his coinage of high quality. Then slowly we back out across the river again to continue beneath Old Belgrade.

By adopting the Attic standard in silver, as Philip had done in gold. Improbably we tunnel for miles. He tied his economy to that of the Aegean world. Passing through subterranean stations as in a science fiction film. The new “Alexander-types” in gold with the head of Athena and in silver with Heracles. Where passengers are waiting, for what? Emphasized. Not for us. The Macedonian and Hellenic aspects of the war against Persia and prophesied victory. At any rate, we emerge gradually into Nature again, though since we are now heading east not north, the Serbian scenery is unfamiliar.

It is probable that the Greek League had a federal chest too for meeting naval expenses. At the most provincial of little stations we pause to take on passengers. The expeditionary force marched from Pella to Sestus in twenty days. “Eurolog,” “Logistica / Distribuzione / Intermodale.” A distance that Xerxes required three months to cover. Reads the side of a stylish freight car on the siding, “Polonia / Italia / Romania.” While Parmenio organized the crossing of the Hellespont, Alexander sacrificed at the tomb of Protesilaus. “Trasporti & Deposoti,” reads the side of another car.

Protesilaus was the first hero who fell in the expedition of Agamemnon. Author naps through two hours of monotonous wheat fields. On shipboard he sacrificed to the Neirids and to Poseidon. Reflected in large green freight cars. The brother of Zeus. Stenciled with the single word “Cereale.” Whose wrath had cost Agamemnon’s army such suffering. As we approach the Romanian border, but still in Serbia. Landing on Asiatic soil. We stop before an enormous ugly yellow brick station, blue clad border police lounging before it. Alexander sacrificed to Zeus, Athena and Heracles.

9  Timişoara to Suceava

The second day’s trip takes us from west to east a good deal of the way, across Romania. At Troy. A country half the size of France. Where his ancestors Heracles and Achilles had fought. As well as most of the way from south to north. Where Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, had killed Priam. After three more hours of flat wheat fields. Alexander sought by sacrifices to propitiate Athena, as goddess of Troy. We ascend for an hour into a charmingly rugged terrain. And Priam. Then descend into a more various landscape. He and his friend Hephastion placed wreaths on the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus. Horses graze in pastures, villages nestle in foothills, men labor shirtless cultivating vegetables as older women in broad hats tend to early harvests.

From the Temple of Athena, where he dedicated his armor, he requisitioned a shield, a relic of the Trojan War, which his bodyguard thereafter carried with him into battle. Large ancient factories from yesteryear still line the railway tracks (which once supplied them with raw materials and distributed finished products). Thus Alexander marked the beginning of a crusade both personal and national, which for him was imbued with religious zeal. Slovenian Martin Strel completed his swim down the entire 5,265 kilometers of the Amazon, said his son.Most are now defunct: unpainted, dilapidated, windows broken out. A 65-day odyssey in which he battled exhaustion and delirium as he avoided piranhas and the bloodsucking toothpick fish.

A silver turreted white church catches the sunlight, reminding us of the role of religion in the lives of these orthodox people given to suffering, and redemption. Four days later his vanguard of cavalry made contact with the Persian army, which was led by a multiple command. Averaging about 80 kilometers a day since he began his swim in the Peruvian headwaters, Strel fulfilled his goal near the city of Belem, 2,440 km north of Rio de Janeiro. We have reached merely the midpoint of today’s thirteen-hour journey. Memnon of Rhodes had advised the other retreating generals and their satraps to scorch the earth as they went, in the hopes that Alexander would run short of supplies. It is a sunny, warm June 14, only a week before spring turns to summer.

But they were determined to fight a battle, relying on their 20,000 cavalry, which they had recruited from the inland satrapies of the empire. If confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records, it will be the fourth time that the 52-year-old has broken a world swimming distance record. The view from the train suggests that Romania, though a well-endowed country, is still recovering from its glum history, lacking perhaps in entrepreneurial imagination. Alexander, aware that the Persian cavalry might attack him in open country, marched with his army always ready for action. The Persians, however, adopted a defensive posture. “He’s hit point zero,” Martin’s son and project coordinator Borut Strel said by telephone from the Amazon on Saturday.

Mid-afternoon, still four hours from our destination, we begin a climb into the Carpathian Mountains. The Amazon is the world’s second longest river after the Nile. The higher elevations relieve us from the heat, which is nonetheless causing boys to bathe in the mountain streams. “There will be a ceremony Sunday in Belem, but he finished today.” As girls in short shorts help their mothers and aunts spread freshly mown hay on wooden racks within the fields where it has been cut. In 2000 Strel swam the length of Europe’s 3,004 km Danube River and then broke that record two years later when he swam 3,797 kilometers down the Mississippi. As we rise into the mountains life grows more prosperous, many huge new houses under construction, all in the old style.

In 2004 he set a new world record after swimming 4,003 kilometers along China’s Yangtze. The train stations too are increasing in size, constructed of stone blocks rather than bricks. On Thursday evening Strel’s health worsened as he struggled with dizziness, vertigo, high blood pressure, diarrhea, nausea and delirium, his web site said. In fact the quarrying of stone, along with the harvesting and milling of timber, are major industries here. But despite having difficulty standing and being ordered not to swim by his doctor, he insisted on night swimming to finish the course. Peasant fashions, especially among the elderly, have become more prevalent. Strel said that he was lucky to have escaped encounters with piranhas, the dreaded bloodsucking fish that swims into body orifices.

Structures that were once barns have been converted to multiple dwellings. And bull sharks that swim in shallow waters and can live for a while in fresh water, near the ocean. We climb the sides of mountains and tunnel through them. “The animals have just accepted me,” said Strel. The skies cloud over. “I’ve been swimming with them for such a long time, they must think I’m one of them.” At last, as we travel at the level of pine tops. There were times when he was in so much pain, “I could not get out of the water by myself.” We are relieved from the midday heat that had made our compartment so oppressive. He was tormented by cramps, chronic insomnia, larvae infections, dehydration and abrasions from the rubbing of his wet suit against his skin, said his web site.

By the time that we have reached Vatra Dornei, things have become positively Alpine. To cope with delirium, Strel said that he turned to his doctor and his therapist for help. Behind the vanguard came the lancers and 500 light-armed infantry. Chalets. “My doctor, who is a psychotherapist, talks to me, asks about my pains and redirects my thinking,” said Strel. And then the phalanx in twice the normal depth with squadrons of heavy cavalry on both flanks and the baggage train close behind. “It definitely helps to have someone to talk to when I’m not in the water,” he added. The defensive Persian position extended as far as the bank of the river Granicus, which was steep but with a narrow foreshore beside the water essential for landing.

Little wild flowers have mixed in with the feathery spring grass of the upland fields. The cavalry, in their reinforced formation, held the top of the bank with an infantry consisting of almost 20,000 mercenaries in line behind them on level ground. The atmosphere has suddenly become quite chilly, as though someone had left a large icebox door open. Alexander prepared to engage at once. Rows of pine trees crest every peak. Although the initial difficulty of crossing the river was serious, he saw that the Persian disposition wasted their great superiority in numbers of cavalry and made no use of their infantry. A chimney puffs with smoke. If he attacked with his whole line, he would overlap the Persian cavalry line. A highway sign points toward Suceava.

He hoped also to punch a hole through that line with his best troops. The roadside stream here, paradoxically, is much larger than it has been on the way up the mountain. He therefore drew up his army on his bank with the Thessalian, Greek and Thracian cavalry to the left under Parmenio. It is roiling with coffee-colored turbulence. He disposed the infantry battalions in the center with the Hypaspists to the right. It begins to drizzle cold pinpoints of rain. A powerful right wing formed by the lancers, Paeonian cavalry, Companion cavalry, archers and Agrianians (in that order) from left to right. A dog barks. The squadron of Socrates, whose turn it was to head the order of battle for the day, reinforced the squadron of Companion cavalry.

As we skirt the edge of a village, many of whose buildings are still under construction, we pull to a halt at a station. Alexander and his body-guard stationed themselves near Socrates’ squadron. Mountain dwellers, their faces eager to reach home, descend from the train; in a red hat the trackside stationmaster oversees our departure, a stick in his hand topped with a circle, red on one side, green on the other. The Persian commanders, seeing Alexander resplendent in his white-winged helmet. The sun breaks through, dispensing its light through a blue opening on a white-clouded mountain ridge. Concentrated their best cavalry opposite him. Far below which the valley is filled with another village. When the bugles sounded, the Socrates squadron led the charge into the river.

We prepare for the final glide into Suceava. After the battle Alexander visited his wounded men and listened to their exploits. We have finally descended from the mountains. Of his Greek prisoners he released any Thebans and sentenced the others to hard labor for treachery to the Greek League. Though still cool, the terrain has leveled off into a plain. He sent 300 panoplies as an offering to Athena, goddess of Athens, to be dedicated with the words “taken from the barbarians of Asia by Alexander, son of Philip and the Greeks save Sparta.” We pass West Suceava, an industrial district, but do not even pause. The victory opened the way into Asia Minor. At Suceava we debark to remain for three days, as “Homer in Romania,” hoping to learn of his fortunes here.

10  The Bucovina Monasteries and Alexander the Good

Thoma of Suceava, Orpheus and Mickey Mouse (author) have arrived at “the Big Hand,” where they are joined by: The son of Prince Roman I Muşat, Alexander the Good (1400-1432) came to the throne of Moldavia with the help of Mircea the Old, the ruler of Wallachia, in 1400. The Magna Mater and Madame Alchimie. Like his Wallachian counterpart in the south. Like Thoma and Stephen, Orpheus and Magna Mater also originated in this region. He developed and strengthened the political institutions of Moldavia during his long and illustrious reign. The latter as the Venus of Willendorf, in Vienna. Alexander promoted the organization of the Church. Mickey Mouse is also happy to have passed through his natal village, Gura Humorului (the humorous mouse.)

The metropolitanate of Moldavia at Suceava, which had been established during the reign of Peter I of Muşat, was officially recognized by the patriarch of 1401, after an emissary from Constantinople, Gregory Ţamblac, made a favorable report about the situation in Moldavia. From “the Big Hand.” To the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church. A monument in honor of the labor of the workers who built this route through the Carpathian Mountains. Ţamblac remained in Moldavia for a time. We descend upon our third monastery of the day. Being named mare dascǎl (learned teacher) of the Church of Moldavia and lecturing in Suceava on the organization of the Church and Christian morality. Where a free table has been laid in honor of author and companions.

He also wrote The Life and Deeds of St. John the New, whose remains were brought to Suceava by Alexander the Good in 1402. Sucevita monastery was built in the sixteenth century by three brothers. Later Ţamblac became metropolitan of Kiev. It was painted with exuberant colors and is regarded as the most beautiful in Bucovina. He participated, as the representative of Kiev and Moldavia, at the Council of Constance (1415-1418). Its patron filled it with icons by the most famous Russian artists. Which condemned John Hus and discussed the possible unification of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Critics have called it the culmination of the art of the monasteries, partly due to its famous fresco, “The Scale of Virtues,” and compared Thoma to Michelangelo.

Throughout his reign, Alexander the Good promoted commerce and succeeded in maintaining friendly relations with neighboring states, especially Poland, aiding the Poles in their war against the Teutonic Knights. Seriatim, Thoma of Suceava translates all thirty of these virtues for author’s benefit from Romanian into English. To strengthen his ties with Poland, he granted special privileges to the merchants of Lemburg, who had a monopoly granted by the Polish Crown for trade with the Orient. One feels as though the moral conception here owes more to Buddhist or Hindu ethics than to the medieval combination of the four classical Aristotelian virtues and the Christian triad of Faith, Hope and Charity, so familiar as to be a cliché in the western European tradition.

After the death of his first wife, Ana, Alexander married Ringala, the sister of the duke of Lithuania and cousin of King Vladislav Jagiello of Poland. It is Madame Alchemie, the mistress of change, who has chauffeured us today in her own car, a Dacia. His ties with Poland strengthened the influence of the Catholic Church in Moldavia and a new bishopric was created at Baia. Orpheus asks her who her favorite scientist is. In addition to the one that had been established at Siret during the reign of Laţcu. “Pythagoras,” she replies in Romanian. He also established an Armenian bishopric in Suceava. “He is the first to have shown us, isn’t he,” adds Orpheus, the numerical basis of chemistry” (both she and Magna Mater are professional chemists).

He generally supported the activities of the Armenian merchants, who played an important role in Moldavia’s economic life. To the same question Magna Mater replies, “Einstein.” In addition, he allowed Hussite refugees from Bohemia to settle in the principality. Orpheus reminds her of a photo of the theoretical physicist in a Mickey Mouse tee shirt. In 142 Alexander succeeded in repulsing the first Ottoman attack on Moldavia. “Isaac Newton,” replies Thoma of Suceava in response to the same question. This would mark the beginning of a long period in which the Ottomans would be among the principal threats to the autonomy of the young principality. The “Scale of Virtues,” we learn, had been compiled by one Ioan Scararul, a Byzantine saint.

Following the death of Mircea the Old, he used the occasion of the internal power struggles in Wallachia to secure the southern border of his principality. As we are exiting the monastery we encounter a group of japing pre-adolescent boys and a very devout group of ten-year-old girls. And to improve its economic situation by seizing the strategic fortress of Chilia along the Danube in 1421. Thoma recounts for us the history of his family’s anti-Communism. Which was also an important customs point through which a great deal of Moldavian trade passed. As we are about to visit the monastery of Putna, we are advised about its former status as a national center of resistance to an oppressive regime. As happened in Wallachia after the death of Mircea the Old.

The monastery was created by Stephen the Great and maintained by his son without external decoration of its church, out of the son’s respect for the father’s memory. The death of Alexander the Good in January 1432 was followed by a long period of political instability in Moldavia, during which competing factions from within and without the territory struggled to dominate. We enter the church to visit the tomb of the father, called by the pope of the time, “The Athlete of Christianity.” As his sons, Iliaş and Stephen too competed for the throne. “Welcome to Putna,” says the priest, shaking author’s hand firmly. In both Moldavia and Wallachia. It is threatening to rain, dark clouds drifting above the monastery’s grounds. The hereditary-elective principle.

The site of the present edifice was chosen by Stephen the great himself, who drew with bow and arrow, releasing the shaft and commencing construction at the point where it struck the ground. Borrowed from Slavic customary law. Priest buttonholes author for obligatory tour in French, focusing on wall maps that illustrate the spread of the Ottoman Empire and the disposition of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Governed ascension to the throne. Along with Greece and the extensive Papal States during the period. As a result, no principle of primogeniture was established in the Romanian principalities. Author flees to the sanctuary of the monastery’s library but is pursued thither, where the lecture continues, in Romanian interspersed with English.

Unlike the practice of Western Europe, all the sons of the prince, both legitimate and illegitimate had an equal claim to the throne, so long as they could gain the support of the leading nobles, called boyars. Since the rain has begun to fall steadily and with some force, author tours the library’s extensive collection of reference books, mostly in Romanian, one of which, a “universal history,” stops at the boundaries of Europe. This allowed for frequent interference in the struggles for the thrones in the medieval Romanian principalities. A young scholar takes a seat at the central research table, which is covered in a red cloth of synthetic fibers, but instead of pursuing research he too insists on engaging visitors in conversation, leaving idle the two computers at his disposal.

From the death of Alexander the Good until the ascension of Stephen the Great to the throne, a period of 25 years, the throne changed hands no fewer than sixteen times. Most of the books in the collection quite naturally consist of religious histories, religious texts, religious encyclopedias. These internal conflicts weakened the country. The young Orthodox priest is wearing an immaculate black pillbox hat, a full black beard and mustache, a black robe and black, unshined shoes. As a result, in 1456, during the reign of Peter Aron. A young lay scholar, in babushka, yellow polo shirt and rimless glasses, is trying to read a book, not very successfully, given the incessant conversation in the room. Moldavia accepted Ottoman suzerainty, agreeing to pay tribute to the sultan.

She holds her book flat on the table with her left hand, a dark yellow pencil in her right. Although the tribute was merely a symbolic price for peace. She has laid her cell phone to one side on the red table, next to it a plastic bag of research materials, atop these her beige handbook. And the principality maintained complete autonomy. The rain appears, from its slowing pace and lower volume, to be diminishing. It marked the beginning of Ottoman influence in Moldavia. No sooner has author completed this sentence, however, than the skies open with a monstrous wind-whipped deluge, like the rains that accompanied the flood of Noah. Which would steadily increase through the next century. Mercilessly it whips the side of the church and the steps leading up to the library.

11  From Bucovina to Oas

As it was now midwinter 335-334 Alexander sent some recently married Macedonians home on leave. Author declines to describe in detail the return by train from Suceava to Dej. Ordered Parmenio to move his base into Phrygia. A six hour trip under chilly overcast skies that produce drizzle and even rain. And himself campaigned in Lycia and Pamphylia as far as Perge. In Dej we must wait another two hours for another train to arrive from Bucharest. Thence, turning inland. So that we can turn north towards Baia Mare. He fought his way through Pisidia to Phrygia. And from there reach Satu Mare. Where he met Parmenio at Gordium. (The Romanian toponym means “large village.”)

The skies have turned sunny, and at mid afternoon a summery heat has arrived. In 336 the forces of Parmenio and Attalus had invaded Asia Minor under the name of Macedon and the Greek League. We have reached the station at Jibou, where many red-yellow-and-blue flags are fluttering in the wind. To free Greek cities from oppressive rule. Which has somewhat mitigated the heat. They had expelled the representatives of the Persians. Next to the station is a little post office. Who were tyrants or oligarchs, from Chios, Lesbos and Ephesus. Author’s compartment mate, a robust red-haired 55-year-old woman. In 334 when Alexander liberated Ephesus again, he expelled the oligarchs.

In a salmon-and-grey, old-fashioned, floral print dress. And issued a directive to his general Alcimachus to depose oligarchies. Reaches into her handbag to silence her ringing cell phone and to answer a call from her daughter. To set up democracies, to restore their laws and to remit the tribute (phoros). On the outskirts of a town an old garage has been painted red, yellow and blue. Payable in the past to Persia, in the Aeolian and Ionian cities. As we approach Baia Mare a red sign reading “Red” rises above old grey buildings. At Priene “King Alexander” emphasized the liberty he had bestowed upon its inhabitants. Nearby is another sign, in blue on a yellow ground, reading “Praktiker.”

12  Satu Mare and the Search for Unity

In Chapter I.2, In search for unity: Author looks out window of Aurora Hotel’s Room 214. From the archaic religious imaginary of the Greek-Latin mythology. Onto Satu Mare’s central square. To the modern imaginary. The pavement is damp from a brief shower. We integrate within our proposed approach to the archetype. Which continues to grow stronger. The interpretation of information in Istoria credinţelor şi ideilor religioase. The headlights of autos circling the square counterclockwise at 7:38 pm. In which Eliade aims to demonstrate the unity of the human spirit. Lay down long beams on the asphalt. The Land of Oas arrives through time, like a mountain river. A white car with black racing stripes streaks by much faster than the rest. Flowing through detritus, roots and sunbeams. A yellow bus lumbers past. Such as the Talna, the Tur, the Valea Alba or the Valea Turtului, famous aquatic arteries of the region. Not only the rain, now, but the wind rustles the trees in the square. In the name of this unity, we notice that the author integrates within the religious mythological imaginary. Causing them to sway and so splay their new full branches of foliage. Situated in the north of Romania, it belongs equally to earth and sky, to the tangible and the intangible worlds. The philosophical, scientific, technical and artistic relations that promote new forms, preserving still a religious meaning. Above the trees rise the twin towers. The North Star is like a friendly neighbor. Of a traditional Catholic church. A certainty suspended on the beam or behind the windmill atop the barn.

In Eliade’s view the human spirit, like the sacred, has an ontological value. A silver car passes without its headlights on in a steadily darkening scene. The Land of Oas is a part of the whole that means identity and difference. Whereas in the previous chapter we have represented by means of the four chronotopoi the relation between man and the sacred. A silver taxi, a green light on its roof, circulates with only its parking lights on. It cannot be confused with other regions. In this chapter we aim to emphasize the concepts by means of which Eliade formulates the dynamics of the spirit in history. The park benches are vacant. In either ethnographic, linguistic, folkloric or psychological terms. Diachronically marked by four fundamental experiences: The only pedestrians, heading across the street in both directions, carry umbrellas as suddenly the volume of the rain increases. It is unique. The hunt, agriculture, the imperial policy promoted by Alexander the Great, based upon the concept of oecumene, and the Judeo-Christian valorization of institutionalized history. Unconcealed admiration is a component of its allegiance. A cooler breeze enters the hotel room, where a fly, with an open window available, continues to harass author. The best way to talk about Oas is to level it up to the rank of a feeling or an idea. The traffic slows; thunder sounds; the traffic increases. Its prospective wing arches into the future from a present that is obvious. Suddenly all the cars have their lights on, including the taxi with the green light atop it making its second consecutive circuit of the square.

Many people have written about the region, including contributors to Eminescu’s magazine “Familia.” Referring to Greek mythology, we consider it to be a meeting space of an Indo-European archaic Orient with the Thracians, and of primitive Christianity with the Romano-Germans. Most of the cars circling the square are grey, black, bronze, white or tan. Ion Busita published a series of reports on the Land of Oas. Though here comes a small, dark maroon sedan. So we present the Greek-Latin mythology, which, on the one hand, manifests an archaic character, and on the other hand has been the bedrock of new spiritual works, as the religious substratum of modern civilization. Parked along the curb, however, are cars in brighter colors that repeat themselves: The famous Hungarian composer Bela Bartok recorded musical folklore from. Red, silver and black; red, silver and tan. Comlausa. Black, white and silver; blue, black and red. Tarna Mare. White, black and red; silver, black and red. And Turt. We notice that the same bi-unitary character of the archetype also manifests in the two Greek religions. Two red lights go on beside the entrance to a store. (Olympian and Mystery.) As another yellow bus makes its circuit, much more noisily than do the cars. Rediscovered in Roman religion. Whose only sound from this vantage point comes from their wheels on the dampened pavement. Other composers have studied themes from Oas, and the sculptor Visa Gheza carved a dance from the region. There is no honking of horns whatsoever. While painters have represented its villages.

Author moves his laptop computer from a little table onto a marble window ledge and takes a seat on the little table. We present the internal evolution of Greek-Latin mythology and its accompanying tendency to register expansion and archetypical recurrence of beginnings. This region is unmistakable: The traditional buildings along the near side of the square. A space within a space. Are quite beautiful. Much as every man is a being among beings. If a little provincial. With common features but also personal notes. Above “Bank Leumi Romania” rise the white pilasters and yellow-painted stone walls of a seventeenth-century style three-story building with a garret above. Commenting upon the four Greek cosmogonic myths, their typology and the mythologies of death. Above it in turn are two TV antennae. We notice that the bi-unitary structure of Greek religion is accompanied, in the presence of divinities, by the manifestation in triad, to which specific functions are connected, along with the tendency toward cosmic integration. Oas offers an archaism compatible with modern taste. The next building, which has fancy Romanian capitals atop its pilasters, has been painted mauve. Its spiritual dowry attracts and persuades. Eliade innovates and restructures divinities in the Greek-Latin pantheon. You can find it in the air, cut by the violins of gifted fiddlers. And it is almost entirely obscured. Such as Mihai Tomoc, Ioan Chioreanu or Petre Zele. Except for its orange tiled roof. The Sava brothers, Vasai Macovei and Ion Lichii. By an elliptical tree.

Eliade relates the figures of the gods to these archaic functions, dislocating old hierarchies and highlighting extra dimensions of traditional couples, opting for archaic divinities. But its beauty can be read better from the “strap of the bag,” handwritten by the girls of the Oas. The next building over has four arches above the Ionic capitals topping its pilasters, a triangular architrave above them, and a peaked roof that seems to belong to yet another building but in fact belongs to the building whose facade includes two mansard roofs with oval apertures. This is suggested, in our opinion, by the “totalitarian” tendency of all the presented gods who either belong to an initial triad or “control” the three cosmic areas. With the hands of the soul, from threads dipped in the colors of love. Next to this building rises the Dacia hotel, its roof tiled in blue and surmounted with a turnip shaped pinnacle, atop which is another turnip. So we focus on synchronous relations among “life” mythologies, represented in the official Olympian religion, and “death” mythologies, in the mystery religion. It passes through time in the rhythm of the “dance” incited by the lads who whip the ground till the stars of the sky fall to earth, ennobling it. The sidewalk café in front of the last two of the buildings is nearly vacant, except for two young men. “Hit the floor with your feet, / Until the stars come out,” they cry. We observe their synthesis in new religious creations from a synchronous perspective. It is not clear whether they are customers or employees. We can find it in the circle of pearls or in the plum brandy.

Thus our analysis focuses upon the god Dionysus, the divine child, born of Zeus and the mortal Semele. The sky is lightening, first along the horizon, where a few of the darkest clouds linger, then above, where a middle ground of shadowy blue-grey prevails. Immediately overhead, rain clouds threaten to recommence their activity. We do not know how many rights the girl of Oas had in olden times, but the right to choose the handsome man was inviolable. Dionysus is a god of fertility, nature and vegetation, of vine and wine, of earth, Inferno and hunting, of enthusiasm and divine transport. From our new vantage many red taillights are visible, at the point where cars exit the square. She said no to the swarthy, to the thick lipped, to the worthless. He is a god of metamorphoses, and he presages a new Golden Age. A much cooler (and refreshing) gust blows through the open window. The feminine melancholy folk songs are a testimony. His archetype is represented by persecution, epiphany, occultation and resurrection. A driver in a yellow car leads a pack of half a dozen vehicles into the turn before the Aurora Hotel. The love declarations translated into poetry when the bow of Eros unleashed the blaze and defeated the moral options. One may see in him the unity of existence in its totality. He is cut off by a silver sedan. The unity of life and death. Marriage was until not long ago a law stronger than the Great Wall of China. Which moves to pass him on the inside and speed toward the next turn. The connection is to be found in their sacred and mystery-related essences.

13  Hungary: Superimbiss Duran

Budapest: following advice received upon arrival at Keleti station, author takes metro from hotel four stops to Deák Place, in the center of the old city. Paris Department Store. Where we are surrounded by Opera House, Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Zsidó Museum, Vigadó and Magyar Tudományos Akadémia. Located in the heart of the city, the Paris Department Store on Andrassy Avenue was the center of luxury shopping for decades. These he eschews for a cup of coffee and two slices of bread with seafood atop them.

The past five years, however, have been a rather glum period for the building, since it has been empty and neglected. The first consists of herring, minced egg and mushroom; the second, of caviar, tomato, a quarter of a hard boiled egg and a dab of mayonnaise. The emporium, thankfully air conditioned on this rather warm late spring afternoon, is officially called “Durcun Sandwiches” and is advertising in its window “Pizza” (in white on red), “Sajtos” (in black on green) “Sonkcás” (black on white) “Szalámis” (black on green).

The goal of ORCO Property Group is to restore the former grandeur of this splendid building. Its table tops are in green plastic, its chairs in blond wood. We acquired the property in January of 2006. A middle aged woman in tan shorts, white strap top, beige beads and a little gold cross on a gold chain, having finished her tea and single open-faced sandwich, takes out her compact, powders her face and refreshes her lipstick. Currently we are preparing a complete renovation with the help of world renowned architects.

With dark glasses situated above her forehead, she wears ornate sandals, their large golden fabric flowers covering her feet. We would like to present you with this rare opportunity to participate in the rebirth of a high retail market. On the table before her: pink-lined yellow shopping bag and beige purse with plastic alligator scales. In one of the most dynamic cities of Central Europe. Now she makes a call on her cell phone, lowers her glasses, and is off. For fifteen years luxury merchandising has not been Budapest’s priority.

14  Budapest’s Andrásy Útica

Author follows, on up Bajcsy Zsilinsky, where he turns to escape the warm afternoon sun into the shady opulence of Andrásy Útica. The Stock Exchange Building. At Goa Café tables and chairs have been set out atop wooden platforms. Located on the corner of the prime square in Budapest. Under scaffolding that shields it from an elegant building’s renovation overhead. This building combines the advantages of an excellent downtown location. Whose plaque, in gold on black, reads “Fővarosi Közlekedési Felügyelet.”

With the grandeur of the Hausmann architectural era. Author enters through one of two small wooden doors, above which seashells within seashells have been carved in wood. The rebirth of the market economy in the early 1990s made the Stock Exchange Building one of the most important business centers in Budapest. Bordered in volutes capped with the heads of lions, their mouths open to indicate their ferocity. For a decade this building was the center for the trading of securities and thereby essential to the new economy.

One continues down a high arcade, its arched ceiling painted with abstract floral panels, to reach a lobby on the left, at the center of which sits an antiquated lift. In keeping with its western counterparts, the Budapest Stock Exchange in 2002 switched to an electronic environment. And on into a courtyard tiled with small beige squares. It will be relocating soon. Only two of the four floors that rise from the courtyard have had their facades painted recently. In 2005 the ORCO Property Group acquired this building in Váci Street.

The name on the street-side plaque is repeated on the ground floor apartment within the courtyard. The most recognized shopping venue in Budapest. “Fővarosi Közlekedési Felügyelet,” it reads again, the shield of Hungary, with its red-and-white stripes and Golgotha cross, in white on red, reproduced beside it. ORCO has the goal of making it into a landmark of high end retail shopping by 2008. Back outside on the street, the building’s front continues with an optician’s display of MaxMara, Vogue and Prada models in fashionable dark glasses.

15  Andrásy Continuation

We continue on to the next building along the avenue. “No Serbian Compromise Offered on Kosovo,” says The Budapest Times. Apparently more extravagant, its building blocks, on closer inspection, are cement imitations of cut stone. Serbia will not give up its right to Kosovo as a quid pro quo for EU or NATO membership, Serbian President Boris Tadic said Thursday. Though its magnificent entrance portal has been fashioned from real stone: Serbia is locked in an increasingly bitter dispute over the future of the province.

Its doorway has two columns, one on either side, each doubled behind by a pilaster on the facade of the building. Which has been administered by the international community since 1999. Which was either designed for, or has been converted into, commercial offices. When NATO attacked Serbia to halt its campaign of ethnic cleansing. A highly polished bronze plaque lists its present occupants, including: The territory remains in theory a part of Serbia. “Komplex Központ,” “Dr. Molnár Judit,” “Széphalmi Géza,” “abacus-consult kft.”

One that the Serbs regard as the homeland of their culture and history. “Merczel,” “OCHO-TRAVEL,” “NetGRAL,” “m T ortgage,” “TeleStart,” “ECHO-CSOPORT.” Despite its now overwhelmingly Albanian population. The building itself bears the name of “Stern Palota.” During his recent visit to Albania, American President George Bush reiterated his support for the province’s independence. At Dobó Útica, a narrow side street, one views the impressive length of the building’s block-long imitation Renaissance facade.

Bush ruled out what he called “endless dialogue” on the matter. Alluring music is issuing from a car parked on its sidewalk, in which two secretaries are relaxing after work. Russia has threatened to veto any plan for the province’s future that Serbia opposes. Across the street parallel to Andrásy a similar building has already been renovated, its inner court covered with a plastic roof; its second-, third- and fourth-floor offices made accessible by plastic walkways; black sofas set out about glass tables on a white marble floor.

16  The Second and Third Sides of the Triangle

At Térez Körút we turn left into this avenue of more ordinary commerce. “Talks Resume with a Big ‘If.’” Brand new trolley cars in yellow and blue are running up its middle. Serbia and the EU have resumed talks on a Stabilization and Association Pact. We have reached a metro stop called “Octagon.” A precondition for EU membership. This broad avenue is more youth-oriented than Andrásy Útica, the first side of the equilateral triangle. Despite the thaw in relations. “Flash,” “Butterfly,” “Krokodil,” read its storefronts.

The EU made clear that the deal. “Gizmo,” another, is already out of business. Will only be finalized. A window displays books about Glenn Gould, AC/DC; by Ray Bradbury and Kornsmihály; Practical Hungarian Grammar, Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of a City. When Serbia. Yet other titles by Haruki Murakami, Günther Grass and Karen Blixen. Has handed over war crimes suspects for trial. The magnificent carved doors of No. 22 have been spray-painted with Hungarian words in silver, bronze, pink, blue and white.

“Poland Seeks Indian Labor.” Instead of having lunch at an expensive café and instead of searching for the bronze and marble busts of “the heroes.” Poland is likely to begin recruiting Indian construction workers to replace the large number of locals who have emigrated to wealthier parts of the EU. Author stops for a cherry tort and another cappuccino at an ordinary food stall. India and Poland last week signed a memorandum of understanding to help economic migrants move to Poland. Whose sign reads, “Házy Rétes!”

Around 800,000 Poles have left to work elsewhere in the EU. On the sidewalk he takes a seat at a red plastic table in a red plastic chair. Especially, since Poland joined the organization in 2004. To observe the rush hour traffic. To the U.K. and Ireland. The cars are more colorful here than anywhere since Macedonia: With the Polish economy growing at over 7% and a construction boom in progress. A green Alfa-Romeo, a maroon Subaru, a metallic ocher VW. Poland is suffering from a shortage of building workers.

A young man skates by, panhandling on the fly. “NATO Dismisses Joint Radar Station.” “Bad Religion,” reads his tee shirt. NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer. Over his head, at the corner of Zichy Jenő út, is a sign for a Chinese restaurant. Was quick to pour cold water on Russian President Vlamidir Putin’s suggestion. “Its sign, suspended from the building, reading “Tian Tian Chinesefastfood.” That Russia and the U.S. create a joint radar station as a means of defusing tension over U.S. plans for a missile shield.

Pedestrian traffic is decreasing as the vehicular rush hour traffic along the avenue clogs. Scheffer claimed that the site, which Putin had suggested locating in southern Russia, would be “a bit close to the rogue states.” An emerald Opel, a silver Mercedes, a metallic coffee-colored Peugeot cool their wheels side by side. He was thinking of Iran and North Korea, against which the U.S. argues, the defense shield is planned to protect. Bicyclists whizzing by on the sidewalk are competing for position with pedestrians and pigeons.

The Secretary General was also forthright in his view of Russia’s attitude. Checking his map, author is up and off, having decided to complete two sides of the triangle and return by metro from Nyugat to Nagyvarad. Which he dismissed as “unhelpful, unwelcome and anachronistic.” Accordingly he heads for the intersection of Teréz Erzébet and what will have become Váci, which we had turned off under a different name to enter Andrásy. Despite the smiles in front of the cameras at the recent G8 summit in Germany.

He pauses for a red light, passes the railway station and, having arrived at the metro station so quickly, decides instead to complete the triangle on foot. And Russia’s apparent inflexibility. Across the way is a bookstore called “Alexandra.” Putin was quick to restate his opposition to the U.S. plan. We enter, past the foreign bestsellers, to sections headed “Magyar Irodalom” and “Világirodalom.” Just days after the summit. Next to Hungarian and Foreign Literature are piled copies of “Magyar Orzág Csodája,” 1000 monuments.

17  Beyond the Triangle

Even after the equilateral triangle is complete, given the brightness of the evening skies, author finds that he is not yet ready to quit. The paper has reviewed a new book called Only in Budapest: A Guide to Hidden Corners. From the Deák intersection he proceeds down a street leading to the Danube. There is an infectious enthusiasm which shines through this well-written and therefore easy-to-read guide. In a small park a lively brass band is conducting a concert of popular tunes.

In his search for the unusual the author takes us to 84 locations. Having reached the riverside promenade, we pass many pleasant but overpriced sidewalk cafés. He describes, in great detail and often with a sharp eye, what is to be observed in terms of statues and the people that they portray. Passing them up, author takes a seat on the marble steps at the feet of an heroic bronze representation of Báró Eötovös Jósef. Of the city’s architecture and areas and what they represent for us.

Jósef is coruscated green, patches of his clothing suffering from a scrofulous black deterioration. As well as museums and their multifarious contents. The sun is only now setting behind the pier of the river’s principal bridge. Excellent photographs accompany the text and very clear and useful maps identify each location. We gaze across at the still sunlit front of what is presumably the Parliament. The strength of this work lies in its descriptions of what can be seen in the city of Budapest.

The view of the monuments high above the river’s opposite bank is obscured by trees planted nearby in the sidewalk. And of what can be found in her museums. On the marble steps also sits a middle-aged couple. A subject of regrettable but understandable boredom. In mild disagreement, he speaks Hungarian, she, French. The author is to be congratulated for his informative and atmospheric writing. Men pass on bicycles, young women with their dogs, mothers with their daughters.

Unfortunately, though he brings to life the capital’s rich array of museums and their displays. All cutting through a narrow space between the steps of the statue, where author sits, and a gorgeous bed of orange and yellow marigolds, blue lupines and yellow cannas. There are some glaring omissions, notably the Kassák Museum in Óbuda. Old men with their young wives stroll by. Which gets a passing mention but no description. On the border of the garden two girls sit for a digital portrait.

Which is odd, since this is surely one of the obscure places. Only a thin strip of river is visible, between the guard rail and the opposite bank. About a relatively obscure figure. But in the indirect sunlight. The radical artist and activist Lajos Kassák. A mellow orange sublimed into grey and blue. Which the author ought to have included. Its surface ripples with green, blue and silver light. But for some reason did not. A black cab passes, its yellow “Taxi” sign illuminated in the dusk.

18  Slovakia: Alexander for Young Readers

Alexander cried when Anaxarchus talked about the realms beyond the stars. He explained his tears: “There are so many, and I have not yet conquered even one.” (Fiona Beddall, Alexander the Great, Penguin Readers, Level 4, 1700 words)

Somewhere between Szob and Štúrovo we cross from Hungary into Slovakia. A clean air conditioned compartment with no other occupants has made this trip quite pleasant. There has, however, been very little to observe.

What might have been seen is continuously obscured by trackside foliage. Not much, finally, distinguishes these landscapes of eastern Romania from those of Hungary and southern Slovakia: fields of corn, fields of wheat . . .

The great Roman general Julius Caesar lived three centuries later. He read about Alexander and cried, because by the age of 32 Caesar had achieved nothing and Alexander by the same age had become famous for creating an empire.

Hungarian and Slovenian border officials, on this train bound for Berlin, have been efficient, stamping one’s passport in the train compartment itself, rather than perpetuating the absurd, nerve-wracking drama of confiscation.

At the Greek, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian borders one had been told that “Thees ees the way we do eet,” relieving one of one’s passport only to return it seconds before the train leaves for another country.

Alexander’s empire did not, in fact, last long. But he joined East and West for the first time, and after his age ideas spread more freely between countries. Although he lived 2,300 years ago, he shaped the world that we live in today.

*

Arrived in Bratislava, author sets out on foot for the old city, stopping at “Milenium [sic] Café” for the cool breeze that its Coca-Cola umbrellas afford. Next door a Zlatý Bažant umbrella shades a guy and his girlfriend smoking cigarettes.

Author pauses to order, from the category “Zapekane Cestoviny,” a portion of Penne Funghi (smotana, vajce, šampiňóny, syr cidam). From the second, “Zmrlinové” menu, he chooses L’adová kava (“strong iced coffee with vanilla ice cream”).

When Philip became king of Macedonia, he conquered the lands east of Macedonia rich in gold. With this gold he was able to pay for a full-time professional army, which gave him a great advantage over the part-time armies of Greece.

Both dishes arrive before author can finish recording their names. Before he can describe the couple under the Zlatý Bažant umbrella, two gorgeous Slovak girls take seats at adjacent table, blocking his view of the guy and his girlfriend.

One new girl sits with her back to author, the other with her face alternately in profile and three-quarter view. A true Slavic beauty, she languishes, as the slow disco music issuing from within our café complements her sultry high-chic “attitude.”

It was a well-trained, well-organized army, and soon it had defeated all Macedonia’s neighbors. By the time that he died, Philip’s empire covered most of modern-day Macedonia, Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and European Turkey.

Her hair, with a lovely off-center part (as only a gorgeous girl can afford to have), has been combed back and secured with a pigtail. Darkly inset eyes, needing no makeup, plus a strikingly pronounced mole complete the stunning effect.

When Alexander was thirteen, his father hired Aristotle, a student of the great philosopher Plato. At this time Aristotle was an unknown teacher with thin legs and small eyes. He also had one of the sharpest and most questioning minds in history.

She has chosen for today’s outing jeans that reach only to mid calf, where the cuff divides to show more of a shapely leg. Gold strap sandals below accent a slender foot; above she sports a short brown gold-embroidered top, a taut midriff.

Aristotle later wrote many important works of philosophy. He was one of the first people to use scientific methods to study plants, the animals and the stars and the way that the sea shapes the land. He also wrote about politics and literature.

A thin, patterned belt, in several colors, unnecessarily supports her hip-hugging jeans, but offers the accent of color that such simple blue pants and brown top require. Looking up from her ice cream, she glances at author, for the third time.

Alexander, like Aristotle, had a hunger for knowledge. He was not Aristotle’s only pupil. Aristotle also taught many of Alexander’s future commanders: Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Seleucus, Nearchus and Alexander’s best friend, Hephastion.

Curious as to scribbling author’s intent, she is jealous of her ravishing good looks. Her eyes are crystal blue, her Cupid’s bow mouth, humorously downturned at the corners, deliciously contradicts the severity of her stern Slavic gaze.

We will never know why Philip was killed. He certainly had many political enemies who had more than enough money to pay for his murder. Some people at the time said that Philip and his murderer had argued about a lover.

Barely 22, she confides in her friend, amusing her with anecdotes. Now lifting a single finger of her left hand to emphasize a point, she leaves her slender forearm (in contrast to her full bosom) perpendicular, a thin bracelet about her wrist.

It is that Olympias was responsible. Philip had not included his first wife in his plans for Macedonia’s future, so she arranged his murder. She would have more power as King Alexander’s mother than as King Philip’s unwanted wife.

*

Author pays his bill and exits onto the street, to enter a “Pedestrian Zone” and head in the direction of the “Historical Center,” where a palazzo is being retrofitted. It has been draped in translucent green plastic netting.

Masons are modeling an imitation cut stone facade by first building a wooden frame, then attaching it and plastering its voids with fresh cement. A young foreman in camo pants, sandals and tee shirt, his baseball cap on backwards, watches.

Alexander was thought to be a relative of Achilles, through his mother, Olympias. His teacher Aristotle had prepared for him a copy of the Iliad, Homer’s great poem about Achilles. Alexander rested his head on it when he slept.

High up on the tall building’s front, over its central arched entranceway, hangs a pretentious advertisement in English for these “Exclusive Spaces.” One is to look for more information at www.urbiaholdings.com.

For many years people compared Alexander and his best friend Hephaistion to Achilles and Patroclus. Now Alexander, like the Greeks of the Trojan War, had come across the Dardanelles to attack the people of Asia.

Activity is proceeding apace on every level: plasterers apply stucco on the fourth and fifth floors; on the third, grills are being fitted to windows; on the ground floor an assistant in comical green overalls mixes cement with a trowel.

*

“Bratislava – Pressburg – Pozony – Prešporok,” reads an ad for a show of graphics representing the city at earlier ages. It is today a very provincial capital in any language. We have reached the touristic center of the old town.

When Alexander’s boat touched the beach, he threw his spear at the ground as a sign that the land was now his. Next he went to the temple of Athena, where he exchanged his own armor for a shield that had been used in the Trojan War.

Its cafés bear names such as “Carpe Diem,” “Tempus Fugit,” “Dubliner Irish Pub,” “Bar el Diablo.” “Parken Verboten,” says a sign across a narrow street, addressing in their native language the town’s principal touristic clientele.

With his shield from the Age of Heroes, Alexander rejoined his army as the new Achilles, chose to fight battles and live famously. Did Alexander guess that, like Achilles, he would die young and never return to his homeland?

Author steps over a sill to enter the whitewashed lobby of the “University Library in Bratislava,” resting his feet and writing in a fabric upholstered chair, one of four about a round wooden doily-clad table set with a vase of cloth flowers.

In Egypt Alexander’s visit to Siwah had a powerful effect on him. He started to believe that he truly was the son of Zeus, like the Greek hero Hercules, more than human; because of this, there was nothing that he could not achieve.

Prevented from visiting the reading room above by a surly attendant, author steps out into the street again to face an enormous banner advertising Avon lipstick. Six varieties in pink and red, glittery and silky, are on display.

Beyond Bactria lay India. Few Greeks had ever been there, but many strange stories were told of this mysterious land. People said that it was rich in gold, which was dug by enormous insects, and that Indian wool (cotton) grew on trees.

They said that people lived for 200 years; there was a tribe of one-footed men; and to the east of India lay the Eastern Ocean, the edge of the world. Alexander led his army east into India more for the adventure than to build an empire.

“Crash Hostel” has parked its official car for picking up passengers at the airport and the train station beneath the Avon ad. “Nová Kolekcia” sits cheek by jowl on the principal tourist promenade with “Antiques Starožitnosti.”

Alexander had built Greek-style cities throughout his empire, populated mostly by Europeans but become more Greek in their habits. Some natives preferred to marry their sister, niece or granddaughter than to marry a foreigner.

In Afghanistan buildings and works of art have been discovered that copied exactly the artistic styles of Greece. The works of Homer, Plato and Aristotle were appreciated in India and even across the sea on the island of Sri Lanka.

Back on the modern street again, author learns that to change from dollars to Czech currency at a bank advertising such service one must change dollars to Slovakian currency, then Slovakian to Czech and be charged two commissions.

The greatest of Alexander’s new cities was Alexandria, the capital of Egypt under the Ptolemaic kings. They mixed Greek customs with Egyptian traditions and built temples to both Greek and Egyptian gods. They were very learned.

Interested in literature, philosophy and science, they invited the most famous writers of their age to live in Alexandria. Out of this collection of great men grew a great idea: a library for all the books that had ever been written.

At least in this avenue the city bench, if uncomfortable, is free. Author takes a seat to survey stucco buildings in cream, salmon and pistachio; in grey with blue trim; in cream stucco above and a light grey marble facing below.

At its largest, this library held only 50,000 books. Among them was a growing collection of histories of Alexander’s life. Some were concerned with the facts; others told romantic stories that were completely untrue.

For example, that Alexander and his warhorse Bucephalas each had two horns on their heads. They told of strange flying machines, a Valley of Diamonds and the secret of immortality. Alexander’s legend was told from Iceland to China.

Above the bench an ad for a special rock festival features “Air,” “The Hives,” “Basement Jaxx,” “Wu Tang Clan,” “DJ Shadow,” “Jana Kirschner,” “Dave Clarke,” “Ed Rush & Optical,” etc. Bratislava has grown too warm to continue writing.

19  Czech Republic and the Conquest of Syria

Having found that no reservations are necessary on the less-than-fully occupied trains from Thessaloniki to Skopje, from Sofia to Belgrade, throughout Romania and Hungary. When Alexander had recovered from his illness. Author neglects to reserve a seat in Bratislava. He reduced parts of Cilicia. On a train that is arriving from Budapest. Held games at Soli. And then. Stopped a civil war at Mallus. Continuing beyond his destination in Prague. And, treating the city as Greek. To Hamburg. Remitted the tribute. We are flirting with affluence again. There he learned that Darius’ army was in northern Syria (near Aleppo) and pressed on round the head of the Gulf to Issus. For this train is almost full and all seats are reserved. Where he left his sick. Or almost all. And then to Myriandrus (Iskanderun). Author finds one that has not been taken and holds his breath lest its occupant finally show up, after the train has left the station.

A heavy storm prevented him crossing southwards over the pass near Antioch into Syria. We are now well out into the Slovak countryside, heading for the Czech Republic. There he learnt to his surprise that Darius had abandoned the wide plains of Syria. The conductor arrives to examine and date author’s Eurail pass. Which suited his superiority in numbers. The Slovak border policeman arrives. And descended by an inland pass to the head of the Gulf. With his (presumably) loaded pistol and handcuffs at passenger’s eye level. So that he was now on Alexander’s route from Cilicia. To stamp author’s passport. Darius reached Issus first, mutilated and killed the Macedonian sick, and camped beside the dry bed of the river Panarus between Mr. Amans and the sea. An uneventful landscape, consisting of quiet villages and broad, deep wheat fields, changes as we hurtle through a substantial town to make up for being fifteen minutes behind schedule.

Alexander, who knew the ground between Mirandrus and Issus, led his army back in the hope of engaging Darius on narrow ground. We slow down for a stop in another town. Where the superior numbers of the Persian army would be less effective. Where we may of course take on the occupants of author’s seat and the empty seat next to it. Early on a November morning in 333 Alexander’s army marched in column. This time we make our way through town slowly enough to read its name (Mallacky) but do not stop. Then gradually deployed into line, as it neared the Pinarus River. There will, however, for certain be two major stops before we reach Prague. His army was again at full strength. (The names of the cities had been listed on the big board among the train’s Czech destinations.) Some 30,000 foot and 5,000 horse, for 3,000 Macedonian infantry, 2,000 other infantry, and 650 cavalry from Macedonia, Thessaly and Elis.

We stop at another town, where passengers from our car get up and debark. The Greek mercenaries of the Persian center charged with great effect. Their seats at least have not been refilled, at least not yet. Meanwhile on the left by the coast the Persian heavy cavalry charged. As on the train ride from Budapest to Bratislava. However, Alexander’s forces on his right wing and right center broke down all opposition. So on the continuation from Bratislava. The phalanx battalions, swinging left. The landscape view from the windows is largely obscured by trackside foliage. Took the Greek mercenaries in the flank and mowed them down. Only when we halt at a station are we afforded a full view, and most of these views are not very remarkable: Darius led the flight, and Alexander swung his cavalry across the battlefield to the left wing. Box cars, a freight car piled with logs, a tanker car, many consecutive cars filled with gravel.

There the Persians broke and in full flight rode one another down to avoid encirclement. We are leaving Kúty. The pursuit lasted until nightfall. Before long we cross the border from Slovakia into Czech Republic. Darius escaped. Continuing on to Brno, in author’s atlas of Central Europe a substantial city. Leaving his chariot and weapons. But no passengers board, at least none who threaten to take his seat. His mother, wife and son, however, were captured in the Persian camp. Which must have been a gift of the gods. The baggage train and treasure of Damascus were later collected by Parmenio. Perhaps a more important stop, listed on the train’s itinerary, offers no threat either. When Alexander was told that the womenfolk were lamenting Darius. Unless people board at yet smaller towns. He sent Leonatus to tell them that Darius was alive and they would be treated with the respect due to royalty. Author may have a seat all the way to Prague.

Next day, despite a thigh wound. Where, having learned his lesson. He visited the wounded. The first thing that he does will be to book his reservation from Prague to Linz three days hence. Who numbered over 4,000 and buried the 450 dead. Then he must not forget to change money. The number of Persian casualties is not known. For though Czech Republic is officially on the Euro. The battle of Issus was closely contested. Like the other Central European countries. The Greek mercenaries, fighting with a racial hatred for the Macedonians. It still uses its own currency. Achieved a break-through and 10,000 escaped as a body. Momentarily the trackside foliage has disappeared. Of them 2,000 rejoined Darius. To reveal an increasingly beautiful landscape. And the rest took ship from Syrian Tripolis to join the fleet of Pharnabazus. Consisting of hills covered with pines, valleys in pasture, a stream running through villages of ample houses.

The Persian cavalry. Our train. Nearly achieved a second breakthrough. A EuroCity special. It was only the final changes made by Alexander. Arrives 50 minutes late. In his order of battle. Depositing us at a station three subway stops from the main station. The excellence and speed of the Companion cavalry and the efficiency of its flank guard that turned the battle into a decisive victory. This presents no problem, for author’s hotel is on the same “Red Line.” The Greek mercenaries abandoned Persia. Eleven stops distant. Many thousands more crossed the seas to Greece during the winter. Almost at the end of Prague’s suburbs. The final battle was fought by Darius with a diminished force of Greeks. Author changes money and inquires at the international window about reservations from Prague to Linz. The provinces west of the Euphrates were now open to Alexander. He is told that these are necessary only for a EuroCity train.

20  Chodova and the Resistance of Tyre

Nonetheless he advanced down the coast to defeat the Persian fleet on land. At the Chodov stop he descends from subway, takes a #154 bus three stops and arrives at Chodov Hotel. During the march he refused Darius’ offer to cede Asia Minor. Where the pleasant receptionist already knows his name. Or to make a treaty of friendship and alliance. Since it is several hours past lunch time, she directs him to the hotel’s restaurant. Declaring that Persia had first committed aggression. Its ambiance very Czech: In Europe, Ads for Kozel, Pilsner Urquell, Pepsi, Red Bull Energy drink. At Perinthus. Brist, Gambrinus and Fruco. And ordered Darius to address him henceforth as “King of Asia.” Lining the walls, along with Jagermeister, Ballentine’s, Jameson, Fernet Stock, Kartovaviski. All the Phoenician cities on the coast of Lebanon welcomed Alexander, except Tyre. In other words, a wide selection for the thirsty of beers, soft drinks and liquors

Because the island fortress of Tyre was considered impregnable. Brought a menu, author seeks instead the waitress’s recommendation. And her fleet commanded the sea. He orders, as she suggests, the goulash. The Tyrians professed friendship but would not commit themselves to his side. Which is listed under foods already prepared. For Alexander it was cooperation or war. He has taken a seat at one of five blond wood tables set with five chairs. In order to put their friendship to the test. Carefully avoiding the Stammtisch. As Philip had done with King Ateas. Which has six chairs about it. Alexander asked to enter Tyre and sacrifice to Heracles. This restaurant has a bar. With whom the Greeks identified the Phoenician god Melcart. Frequented by residents of the neighborhood. The Tyrians refused, and so Alexander undertook the siege of Tyre. American country music drives the mood, dissipating the effect of cloudy skies.

He attempted first to build a mole out to the island. The goulash appears. When it came under attack from the walls and warships. Not quite what one had expected. He placed two towers on the end of the mole, but these were destroyed by fire ships. Instead of a homogeneous concoction. He therefore decided to collect a fleet at Sidon. It consists of chunks of meat topped with onions and surrounded with perfect circles of fricasseed potato patties. The news of his victory at Issus and the surrender of the other Phoenician ports had caused the fleet of Pharnabazus to break up. Three other guests enter the restaurant at ten till 3:00. Squadrons from Rhodes, Lycia and Cilicia. The drizzle. Cyprus and Phoenicia joined Alexander. Has turned very cool. And with some 220 warships he controlled the coastal waters off the harbor of Tyre. Beyond a blue balcony railing, hung with a sign reading “Bez Obslushy” (no service), lies the nondescript suburb.

For our hotel is located in a community of “housing projects.” The besieged fought with ingenuity and ferocity. From the work-out gym across the hall enters a blond, pink-sweatered, big-breasted attendant. Killing every prisoner they took. Who returns an empty plate. But in the seventh month of the siege. Author. Alexander. Had noticed her ordering earlier. Commanding the Hypaspists. Her long tresses and light complexion. Landed from transports. Nicely complemented by her slack khaki pants. And stormed two sections of the walls. The middle-aged waitress, in short, rusty-red-dyed hair. The troops poured into the city. Attends to everyone’s culinary and emotional needs. And avenged their compatriots by widespread massacre. A guy and his girlfriend enter. All survivors. And order the same drinks. Except for the Tyrian king, his entourage. Their synchronous manners maintaining the liquid in the glasses at precisely the same level.

And some envoys from Carthage. The bar/restaurant’s clientele now stands at five. Were sold into slavery. One couple and three loners. Thus Tyre suffered the fate of Thebes. Outdoors, a light rain continues to make itself visible. Alexander sacrificed to Heracles. As it splashes into already formed puddles. And garrisoned the island as a naval base (July 332). At 3:00 another couple enters, takes seats, and waits for the waitress to arrive. During the siege Darius offered to cede all territory west of the Euphrates and pay 10,000 talents, if Alexander would restore the women of the royal family, marry his daughter and conclude a treaty of friendship and alliance. Engaged in conversation at the bar, it takes her a while to gather up two menus, reach the couple’s table, and present them. When the terms were read to the Staff, it is said that Parmenio remarked, “Were I Alexander, I should accept, and tend the war without running further risk.”

For a moment both study their menus. To which Alexander replied. But finally look up at the waitress together and say with one voice: “Were I Parmenio, I should accept, but being Alexander I shall reply as follows.” “Bier.” He then announced his rejection of any offer less than the whole Persian Empire. Smiling, the waitress concurs, taking the menus. There were many arguments of common sense in favor of Parmenio’s advice. Author returns to his room to recover from a day of travel begun at 4:00 am. As yet, Alexander had conquered only the coastal areas of the great territories west of the Euphrates, and Antigonus as commander in Asia Minor had already fought three battles to keep the lines of communication open. To reconsider his description of Hungary and to revise his description of Slovakia. These territories would suffice for settling the surplus population of Greece and would form an economic unit with the Balkans.

21  Petr’s Praha

Two enormous garbage trucks have arrived in Jindřišská Street, both painted entirely orange, one marked in green letters, “Plasty,” the other, “Papír.” Nor was Greece yet pacified and secure. An electric trolley passes down the middle of the street, an “Edith Piaf” poster on its side. For after the battle at Issus. From within the second garbage truck emerges a crane. Greek envoys sent to Darius by Athens and Sparta had been captured and kept by Alexander. Noisily it picks up a yellow container of plastic waste. Athens had recently instituted military training for her young men (ephebe). Raises it high above the bed of the first truck. Pharnabazus, too, had given to Agis, the king of Sparta, money, ships and 8,000 Greek mercenaries from Tripolis. Jiggles its handles. To force Crete over to the Persian side. Until the bottom of the bin opens to disgorge many plastic items. And cut sea communications between Greece and Tyre.

MM: We are seated, author and Petr Škaroupka, a young Czech friend encountered in Korea, on this side street off Wenceslas Avenue (which ends in the great museum), having our cups of espresso (Petr) and cappuccino (author) at 10:00 o’clock, Saturday morning. Petr, tell me, what is important that we know about the city of Praha?

PS: I think most important is to realize that Praha is a very old city with old traditions. Both the crane operator and the first truck’s driver are dressed in orange shirts and green pants. It is a small city with a small population, and here you can often feel as though you are in an Italian city. Another red and white trolley passes.

MM: Yes, it is a very beautiful city and one of high culture, isn’t it?

PS: Because the history is remote, and it was almost the capital, we might say, of mediaeval Europe. The operator picks up a blue container designated “Papír.”

MM: Please tell me more about this period of Prague’s history. And deposits its contents in the first truck, the one marked “Papír.” For I know so little about it.

PS: It wasn’t Czech country, it was part of German and Austrian country, and the great king Charles IV made it the capital. The two sanitary workers have left behind.

MM: And before that it was part of the Holy Roman Empire, wasn’t it? Unopened the green container for “colored glass” and the white container for transparent glass.”

PS: Yes, I think so [laughter]. Plus the miscellaneous garbage bin. [Indicating by his reticence that we should, after all, discontinue this historical nonsense.]

These signs meant more than the gold crown sent by the Greek League in honor of the victory of Issus. Having finished our coffees and set out nonetheless for the even more historical old city. More important was that Asia west of the Euphrates was indefensible. We have passed up many touristic restaurants and other venues to arrive at a little boîte behind Petr’s former high school. As Rome was to show later. A place that he says he frequented during his student days. By a power based in the Mediterranean and the expectation that the future interests of Macedon and Greece might be better served by expansion westwards against the European peoples. Among the sites passed up are Stavovské divedlo (the theater) and Prešá brána (the “dust” gate). With some of whom Alexander the Molossian was already at war. The conversation has turned to the question of universal health insurance, Prague hospitals, Czech doctors and Petr’s reluctance to visit them.

MM: If, for example, you are going bald in Czech Republic and go to a doctor, what is the greatest problem? Petr is now working in Prague 6, as an engineer.

PS: We have a saying, “Don’t take the medicine for baldness from a doctor who is bald.” In a more modern part of Prague, but still within the city limits of the old city.

MM: And what about the problem of giving up smoking in Prague? Petr is unhappy, he has told us, with the gentrification of the old city, even the painting of its houses.

PS: It is the same problem: if the doctor is smoking a cigarette, while he is treating you, then you cannot trust him. He does not like all the tourists flooding the district.

MM: Likewise, I suppose, you should not go to an overweight doctor to lose weight. In fact on our stroll we have seen very few ordinary Czechs. But perhaps the purpose of these doctors is not to help you regain your hair, or stop smoking or lose weight but rather to make money. Instead, a great many Germans, Englishmen and Italians.

PS: In Czech Republic the doctors do not make any money, they work for the government. And Asians of all stripes: Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Indians.

Alexander’s reply sprang from the impulsive force of his genius. We continue our rambling, ambulatory discussion, the presence of tourists again eliciting Petr’s disapproval. When he conquered Darius. “I feel that they are turning Praha into Disneyland,” he opines. Resistance would die behind him. Author asks if he has ever seen in the capital the most famous denizen of Disneyland, Mickey Mouse. And the eastern limits of the Persian Empire, he thought, were close to the edge of inhabited Asia. Petr says that personally he has never seen him, but he is sure that “he will be here.” Alexander was barely 24 at the time. When author mentions another famous MM, Marilyn Monroe. Later he would turn his armies into the western Mediterranean. Peter expresses his preference for her. For the present he intended to drive towards the East. Over Mickey Mouse. His decision was one of the most crucial in the history of civilization.

Central Europe

Madison Morrison

Copyright © 2008 Madison Morrison

The Working Week Press

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