Archive for the ‘Montenegro’ Category


In Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Dubrovnik, Montenegro, Pittsburgh, Uncategorized, Vermont on October 30, 2010 at 7:46 pm

This afternoon, a dream finally came true: I picked up 162 copies of my book, The Archipelago, from the offices of Autumn House Press. They look fantastic — I even love the spine. I am so grateful to my Autumn House dream team: Kriscinda Meadows for keen editing, Rebecca King for her magnificent design, Rick St. John for his business acumen and Michael Simms, President, who took a chance on a 30-year-old grad student.

And now you, too, can have your own copy.

There are two ways to find one:

Amazon: You can go to and order a copy. This is the most efficient way to track it down. Orders will start shipping on November 1, 2010. You’ll have your very own volume, full of mind-blowing adventures, in a matter of days.

Me: If you don’t want to pay for shipping, and you tend to run into me on a regular basis, I plan to carry around copies wherever I go. Copies are $20 (which is about the same price as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and it’s $280 less than a Playstation 3! What a deal!). I now have 162 copies to peddle, and nothing would make me happier to furnish you with one.

What will you discover among these pages? You’ll learn:

  1. What it’s like to get solicited by prostitutes in Athens.
  2. How it feels to fly down mountain passes in Albania. In a bus. In the middle of the night.
  3. Just what it takes to wreck a hotel room in Tirana.
  4. The joys of getting interrogated by Montenegrin border patrol.
  5. How to cross a [potentially active] mine-field.
  6. The awesomeness of Austrian mimes.
  7. What to do when confronted by American G-Men at the Sarajevo airport.
  8. The mysteries of “Turbo-Folk.”
  9. How Bosnians courageously survived the siege of Sarajevo.

Makes the perfect Christmas gift.

Thanks to everyone who made this project possible! Enjoy!


Drunken Montenegrins, Morning

In Montenegro on August 5, 2009 at 12:00 am

Archipelagos 125

I wake up at 6 a.m. and carry my backpack out the door. The sun has barely pierced the horizon, and the streets are gloaming-violet. As I pass the Blue Hotel, two enormous men hobble toward me. One is flabby and balding, the other is tall and skinny, but they are both middle-aged and wear black jackets as sturdy as Carhartts. The pudgy man clasps my arm and walk a pace, speaking in a language so slurred it might not mean anything. His friend stares ahead, looking embarrassed by my company. From what I can tell, they have been drinking all night, and they’re only now stumbling home from the hotel bar. So here we are, the mad king, his blind advisor, and the innocent clown, staggering through the empty streets at Bar with nowhere to go. Except that I must reach Dubrovnik and they clearly need to sleep.

When we reach the bus-station, I enter the little café, and I’m alarmed that they sit down with me. I order a cappuccino and the pudgy man immediately pays for it, along with their own coffees. The man starts squawking at me, and when I ask for English, he rolls his eyes dismissively and continues blathering, as if I’ll start to understand him any second. The conversation is awkward, mostly because it isn’t a conversation at all, only a large drunken man sloshing words in his mouth and leaning back in his chair, giggling now and again. His friend still wears a stoic expression – like a general displeased by his corporal’s lewd behavior, but helpless to stop it. I keep shrugging my shoulders, as if to say, I’m sure what you’re saying is hilarious, but it’s meaningless to me. I thank him for the cappuccino, and he nods, then says something about America.

Sveti Stefan

In Montenegro on August 3, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Archipelagos 120

I have seen this image a hundred times before: A circular town crowded together on a small island, accessible only by a dusty road. The orange roofs of Sveti Stefan bundle together defensively, separated only by the spires of trees; the medieval village is ringed with powerful rocks, as if nature itself has gathered the town together. The island is magical, removed from time and space, hanging by a single thread to the Balkan coast. The island seems to turn proudly away from us, resenting the road that connects it to civilization. Such landmarks are so improbable, I can hardly believe the sight; it’s a trick of the imagination, a mirage lifted straight out of a coffee-table book. And yet people actually lived here, laid the stone, netted fish, circled the island in boats. Seeing such perfect architecture, refined by generations of masons and woodworkers, I never want to step foot in another Costco. How do such wonders occupy the same planet as Atlanta? Detroit?

Then Sveti Stefan disappears behind bushes and a house, and the panorama is lost forever. I have snapped a photograph, compulsively, but there’s really no point. Nothing could capture such magic. Not even words.

On his deathbed, Marco Polo declared: I didn’t tell half of what I have seen, because no one would have believed me.

The Cliffs of Montenegro

In Montenegro on June 9, 2009 at 1:00 am

Archipelagos 117

The driver is irritable, and there’s nothing we can do about it. When orange construction cones stall our progress, he slams the brakes and curses to himself. Mopeds weave around us; tiny Volkswagens play chicken in the left-lane, trying to speed past, then fall behind at the last second to make way for oncoming traffic. We’re flying down the angular road, hugging the jagged walls of cliff and narrowly missing the cars and vans that hurtle in the opposite direction. In every sense, we are risking cataclysm — raking against the mountain, crashing through the guardrail, headbutting another vehicle, trampling a motorcyclist, crushing a construction worker, jackknifing over the edge of the cliff and plummeting into the Adriatic Sea. As the driver reddens with road-rage, I pray he isn’t suicidal.

A bus speeds towards us, careening around a corner. The road is so narrow. No shoulder. No passing lane. I nearly close my eyes, but I’m riveted by the sight of the rapidly growing grille. The “ISUZU” logo looms large. Strange faces appear beyond the enemy windshield. I imagine a nimbus of exploding glass, a wall of fire. I brace myself. One more second—

The other bus flashes past. Faster than eyes or brain can process. Gone. As if these two buses have passed through each other, poltergeists playing games. I catch a single breath, disbelieving, before a tunnel swallows us whole, and everything goes black.


In Montenegro, Uncategorized on June 4, 2009 at 1:00 am

Archipelagos 111

Paulin pulls to the side of the road and raises his hands to his face. He makes a clicking motion, signalling, Take a picture. Just outside the car, two rough wood planks have been set, forming a bridge to the flat roof of a house. Paulin doesn’t know the owner of the house, but he ushers me forward. Nobody minds, his shrug suggests. There’s no such thing as trespassing here.

I nimbly cross the trembling boards and step onto the chalky roof, crossing to the opposite side. From the edge, Montenegro spreads out like a Trascendental painting: Cottages bunch together along the hillocks, cradled by the taller mountains on either side. Dirt roads maunder lazily between them, joining and splitting directionlessly. The rooftops grow into a thicket of neighborhoods and towns, and far in the distance, on the vanishing point beneath a sapphire-blue mountain range, rests Budva’s port. The highlands have parted at last, revealing a lush Canaan. After the blinding bronze landscape of Albania, Montenegro restores color to my eyes.