Macedonia & Vienna Travel Log
Part One: Getting Ready to Go
Last fall, I was invited to the Skopje Book Fair in the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, for the launch of the Macedonian translation of Torrie and the Snake-Prince this April. Thanks to a Canada Council travel grant that's helping out with the cost of the flight, I'm actually able to go. I've been getting ready since about November, being someone who believes in starting the planning (i.e. worrying) early. I've now reached the point where I feel I should be making lists of the lists, so I don't lose track. Things to do. Things to take. Things that Must Be Done before I go. Things I have to do in the two days after I get back, before I go off to Ottawa for another reading and some workshops. Things that Must be Ironed .... Yes, the lists are getting a bit out of control.
Actually, my first thought on receiving the invitation from my Macedonian publisher, Vermilion, was, "Mountains!" I'm not sure why I'm so keen on mountains. I remember being five, in the back of the car on a cross-continent camping trip, trying to draw the misty blue distant Rockies as they first crept over the prairie horizon, feeling frustrated because I couldn't get the subtle mistiness right. (Wax crayons simply aren't the best medium for grand landscapes.). Maybe that started it. I'm pretty sure the Misty Mountains of The Hobbit have quite a lot to do with it, too. I'm always sending my characters through mountains; I think I must believe at some in-the-bone level that mountain journeys are mandatory for Adventure. Torrie has to cross mountains to get almost anywhere from the Wild Forest; mountains encircle Talverdin; Moth and Mikki of "The Storyteller" are heading, though they don't know it, out on a journey that will bring them into the greatest mountains of their world. Skopje itself isn't in the mountains, but the Republic of Macedonia is a small country with a river in the middle and mountains around the edges, so I'll definitely be seeing some, and of course, somewhere between Here and There are the Alps.
What started as changing planes in Vienna has turned into a brief visit to that city (more mountainous horizons!) and the launch of the final book in the Warlocks of Talverdin Quartet, The Shadow Road, at a Viennese school. Luckily I don't have to worry about trying to find my way around in a no-doubt jetlagged state (which will not improve my so-so German any, I'm sure); friends will ply me with croissants and Viennese coffee and make sure I don't end up wandering gibbering along the Ringstrasse. Vienna seems to be a city of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it's really a place where you can see the strata of human history in Europe, layer upon layer, from the Neolithic to the Second World War. Hallstatt swords. The Nibelungenlied.
The Republic of Macedonia was formerly part of Yugoslavia. It's landlocked, surrounded by mountains (I did mention that), and in that respect, has a certain resemblance to High Morroway, in which part of Torrie and the Snake-Prince takes place. I don't think cheese forms such an important part of the culture, though. High Morrawaians are very fond of their cheese. The main north-south route through the Balkans passes through Skopje. There's a Roman town being excavated nearby, an Ottoman fortress and caravanserais, and, according to my guidebook, quite a lot of nineteen-sixties concrete, due to an earthquake that destroyed much of the old city about fifty years ago, with great loss of life. As in Vienna, someone is taking me under her wing and looking after me, which takes a great deal of the stress out of travelling in an area where I don't speak any of the common languages. I'll be giving readings, attending the launch of the Macedonian Torrie and the Snake-Prince, taking part in a panel discussion on fantasy in Canada and Macedonia, visiting a school, speaking to a university English class, and in between all that, seeing a bit of Macedonia. I'm also being honoured with the International Anna Frank Award for children's literature.
The panel discussion is going to be interesting. Professor Ursevic doesn't speak English and has suggested French, but though I can read French and get much of it, when it comes to spoken, I'm thrown back on my high school vocabulary, which means that unless discussion is limited to Roch Carrier's verdammte "Hockey Sweater", which I seem to remember we did over and over again several years running, I don't have the words. (The truth is, when I try to speak French, it comes out German.) I'm sure we'll manage to have an interesting discussion somehow or other, though. He's written a book on Macedonian science fiction with the intriguing title of Demons and Galaxies, which sounds like something I'd like to read. (Goes well with Quests and Kingdoms, too.)
Meanwhile, with all this ahead of me, I'm busy Organising, i.e. revising those lists. My luggage so far consists mostly of books, gifts for my hosts (including a toddler's teddy bear, currently named Macedonia Bear, the first thing I bought for the trip, actually), guidebooks, and of course, books to read on the flight. It's not so much the flight, in fact, as the time spent sitting in airports between here and there. It feels like almost half the time spent in travelling is going to be passed sitting in Pearson airport, as a staging area between Moncton and Vienna. (That's an exaggeration, but not a large one. I'll be in three airports in three provinces before I ever get out of the country.) I'm taking Erikson's The Bonehunters and Heitz's The Dwarves (in English); those ought to keep me occupied for a while.
And for some reason, not one but two people have mentioned my upcoming trip to Mongolia. This worries me a little. Is there leakage from some related world, in which I'm travelling somewhat further east? And what if my luggage gets confused about which reality it's inhabiting?