Friday, February 24, 2012

excerpt from Ottoman Beachcomber

I have been working on converting a travelogue I wrote in 1983 into an eBook. This is not simply a matter of conversion into xhtml from standard word processor format. An eBook should be more than simply an electronic version of a physical book.

In the case of my travelogue, Ottoman Beachcomber, this means embedding links into the text, to explicate places with public knowledge and images. It also means digitizing drawings from my notebooks, to embed in the story, as well as digitizing my wife's prodigious collection of 35mm slides, many from our travels in 1983, again to illustrate the text.

While I have not yet digitized the slides, the following excerpt will give you a taste of the many virtues of eBooks. Clicking on the link-colored text will take you to explanatory or illustrative internet resources. Of particular pleasure to me is the drawing I did of the Contemporary Art Gallery in Skopje, which you can see below. Compare that to a photo I found in Wikipedia of that very same gallery, the "Ottoman bath" link in my text, taken recently!

I hope you enjoy the short excerpt below as much as I have enjoyed researching the places and times described.



My intention was to go from Prizren to Skopje to Saloniki, a city 70 k's inside the Greek border. It would be a very long day unless my connections were good.

I woke at 5:41 to catch a 7:00 AM bus, and it was easily done. I reached Skopje by 10:00. However, there was no bus leaving for Saloniki till 2:30. I could get a direct bus at that time, but it would be four times as expensive as taking a bus (or train) to the border, walking across, and getting another bus in Greece. That's the way it works in these here parts. So I walked to the train station and found that the next train to the border was at 3:30. In spite of the hour delay, I decided on the train. I had been told it was more convenient. I checked my bags at the very modern Skopje train station (the old one had been shaken down in a 1961 earthquake), and set out to explore. A tourist map showed an art gallery, 300 year old mosque, and a caravanserai clustered fairly closely together and about a 20 minute walk from the train station. The district I was exploring also had a wonderful, large, open air market. It consisted of a number of picturesque winding alleys built into some Ottoman ruins, filled with an unending assortment of shops and goods. I especially noticed some antique jewelry shops with exceptionally fine old filigree work. In fact, I had never seen anything nicer, but then again, I'm not a regular at Sotheby's. I drank little glasses of tea in two tiny, wood panelled 'chai' shops as I wandered around the antique alleys.

Just outside the market was the caravanserai. This was a treasure! It was fully intact and preserved, but even better, each little room (about 60 in all) was filled with archaeological finds, exclusively stone and tile. There were Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman architectural fragments, gravestones, statues, and who knows what else. It was free and I was the only person there for the whole time I spent poking around and sketching. But don't imagine this was some kind of modern museum. Most of the rooms were unlighted, and nothing was labelled. It was really something between a museum and a warehouse, and I liked it like that.

Then I found the art gallery, not 15 minutes walk away. It was an extremely beautiful and well preserved Ottoman bath with 4 main rooms, discreetly plastered inside so that interesting structural and decorative brickwork remained exposed. It was a wonderful environment displaying a small assortment of modern Yugoslavian paintings.

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