My first view of the city; Pejton district.

Credit: inpristina.com

I arrived at Pristina in the middle of the night, descending into a heat wave on a lightning-troubled plane – but wait. That’s so dramatic. Can we say instead that I took a points ticket from Vienna, reading American magazines and devouring the complimentary sponge-cake? Both seem accurate, but truth tends to lie between the extremes. Or does it? For a million reasons, this place seems designed to test that theory.

Had you told me a year ago that I would be sitting here right now, drinking “Lasko” brand beer and waiting for the water to come back on, I would have thought you were crazy. Interesting, perhaps, but equipped with one of the cloudier crystal balls. Six months ago, I could not have pointed to Pristina on a map. Had you done it for me, I would have guessed wrongly. Transylvania, maybe? The westernmost part of Turkey? I wouldn’t have had a chance. Now I live here, and as you might guess, this is more due to circumstance than intention. Serendipitous circumstance, definitely – but circumstance nonetheless.

So what is there to learn? The place is confusing, multi-layered. It is “Europe’s newest country,” but it betrays its antiquity at every corner. It is a beachhead for Islam in the heart of the Continent, but there are no niqabs on Nene Tereza Street, only skimpy ‘80s rock tees displaying slogans like “Young Free America.” It is the Independent Republic Of Kosova, but it is also Albania (just ask) – and a few will still allow themselves to whisper that it is Serbia.

One of the benefits, I’ve always found, of the naïve approach is that you sometimes get a straight answer. You might not score any best-line-of-the-night points with a wide-eyed question, but you are at least marginally less likely to be flattered with worldview-confirming lies. And for me, at this point anyway, it is as much a question of necessity as of style.

Where am I? What is going on here? What on earth are these people doing?

I think it is best to start off with the basics.

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