Lake Shkoder in early morning, crossing the border from Albania into Montenegro
I’m sitting in Petrovica park in Podgorica, a warm and sunny day in late autumn. The capital of Montenegro is not architecturally riveting but it does have plenty of parks.
I’m reading a book by Andrej Nikolaidis, a Montenegrin writer, and I’m completely absorbed by it. There is no-one else in this part of the park, no-one else even walking past. I make notes as I read, as I’ve been asked to write something about this author and his novels. Every so often I look up, as I pause to think. I’m so absorbed in what I’m thinking that I only notice a man walking along the path when he’s almost standing in front of me. He is wearing a light brown uniform, he stops and says dober dan. Dober dan I reply. But his next words, in Montenegrin, are beyond me so I admit, in English, that I don’t speak his language. Ah, he says, tourist? Yes. English? Yes. Dobra? I ask. OK? He assures me yes, he is OK. And again, I’m OK. He seems a little reluctant to leave but since as he says, all is OK, he nods and walks away, in the direction he came. I return to my book.
|View of Podgorica from hilltop park|
Earlier that day I’d done a circular in another park on a hill beyond the ancient small church of St. George (Sveti Djordje, about nine hundred years old, as I discover later).
Then I’d headed into the central area, with pedestrian streets, and lots of cafes and restaurants, to have breakfast.
Breakfast at the Loft cafe
I had plenty of time before heading back to the bus station, picking up my case from the left luggage, and going to the airport. So I explored this other park, which has an art gallery at the centre. I’d sat for a while at one of the entrances, with steps up to a sweeping path. There were no other people in this part of the park until two young women come along and pose on the steps, taking photos of each other.
I visited the art gallery, but did not stay long. The current exhibition was a series of distorted perceptions, where the artist gave trees, and sometimes humans, bunches of sprouting protruding limbs all equipped with eyes which leered and sucked at the objects of their vision. Women had enormous breasts and lips. Men looked ravaged and deformed.
But outside, the sun shines and the trees display yellow transparent leaves and the scene is peaceful. I will soon be boarding a plane and heading back to the grey skies of UK and I want to enjoy these last few hours of warmth and sunshine, so I head back outside, find a bench near the entrance with the steps and sit there. Which is where the man in uniform found me. I thought he was perhaps a park warden of some kind.
Just a few minutes later, he comes back. As he walks up the path he is speaking on his phone, and stops in front of me again. You have ID? he asks. Yes I say. He holds out his hand, he wants to see it. I take out my passport, give it to him. He opens it, flips through the pages, then pulls out a notebook, and writes in it. I presume he is noting my name and passport number. But why, I ask him as he hands it back. I’m just sitting in the park, why do you need to see my ID? He gestures to the building just below the hill, which my bench just happens to overlook. American Embassy he says, I work there.
It all makes sense now. My scribbling, and gazing out in the direction of the Embassy has clearly aroused suspicion. Though I had no idea it was the US Embassy I was looking at. The man nods, and walks off. I close my book, and decide it’s time to leave the park. I take lots of photographs but I hadn’t taken any while I was sitting there. Fortunately. That might have been really incriminating.
Milenium Most (Bridge), over the Morača river, Podgorica