Thursday, March 06, 2014

Hobbiton, Kosovo

            The term break in my Bulgarian school was at the end of January. Four other Americans and myself met in Sofia and took a series of buses to Kosovo to explore during our few days off in hectic and draining work schedules. Each of us carried some worn part of ourselves and thought and mulled over our first five months in a classroom.
            Prizren, Kosovo is listed as one of the hottest spots in Europe for young people. We said over and over “Look at all the young people!" In our towns, the average age is 40 or under 18 years old. Finding friends had been hard. We wandered the cobbled streets between mosques and church encased in barbed wire and bright cafes and music and a lit fortress on top of the hillside.
The Whole Set Up
            Our first night, we passed a green sign that said, “Hobbiton”. I looked in the front window and saw movie posters for the Hobbit. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and was intrigued. I left my group and walked straight in, trying to figure out what it was. The “Hobbiton Club”. It was a hang out club with an LOTR theme. A Rohan crest on one wall. A floor to ceiling ornate map of Middle earth on another. A wooden bar hung with Lotr paraphernalia and shelves of LOTR books (along with some Game of Thrones and Stephen King). Young men were playing back gammon and chekers and drinking coffee and eating different tortes. I realized people were staring at me. “You were gawking rather openly” my friend pointed out later. I had marched in there and tried to figure out what it was that I was seeing.
            Later, as our last stop on a long day, we went back for a drink after dinner. They told us that there wasn’t any alcohol there. Ah. So that’s why the average client seemed to be high school! Lot’s of boys were there, a seeming cross-over from the gaming crowd. The workers were Balkan hipster, thick black glasses, long sweaters. It seemed like a great place to hang out for young people. The dim lights made it feel like a bar but there was a light heartedness to the interactions that indicated a life not quite full of the cares one brings to lull with drink.
Map of Middle Earth
Rhunes on Wall
            We ordered tea instead and sipped it as we looked around at the space. My heart was quite happy. This would have been my place ten years ago, deep in the Lotr culture as I was. I couldn't believe I was in Kosovo hanging out in a club of lotr nerds. The owner talked to us for a few minutes. It only opened last year. I guess he was starting up a business and that theme came to mind. To think that there would be enough fans in the town to support his business! He read the books in 1997 and had loved them since. I read The Hobbit for the first time in 99, Lord of the Rings in 2001. I then read them twice a year for the next five or so years. I think my current tally is 12 .
            Kosovo has a difficult story. Its history is a story of conflicting claims for power and ownership. It has civil war and genocide and killing. I’d try to retell its history but I know that I am just getting acquainted with it and so wouldn’t do it justice. A lot of it was expressed in Serbian vs Albanian, Orthodox Christian vs Muslim populations. And it undid generations.
            Lord of the Rings addresses conflict like this. In one moment in particular (a moment attributed to Faramir in the movie), Sam muses on his first view of men fighting men:

" He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered hat the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace—all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind."
This made the Enemy kin to the hero we are asked to admire. Lord of the Rings can be retold as if it is a simple narrative of good against evil. It is not. It tells the stories of long roads walked into the darkness and asks what it is that corrupts us each from the inside. And there are characters who go one way and then another. Even Wormtongue is offered a new beginning (though he does not choose it). The potential for harm and for goodness exist simultaneously in every character. None are immune.
Hobbit Door behind a table
            A man in Kosovo read this story during the civil war. Loved it. Held it close to him. And now in times of peace, he owns a café/club honoring it and sharing it with others. That’s what literature gets to do when people take it fully into themselves. Things get to be new again.

1 comment:

Tim Hurd said...

:) :) :)