09 May 2012

(The Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia's Third Lake

Looking out over Lake Dojran in Macedonia you can clearly see the foreign land of.... Macedonia? Greek Macedonia sits right across the water, its green hills and spinning white wind turbines giving the little town of Dojran a dirty look.  It wants to be the only 'Macedonia' on the block.  Our first knowledge of the ongoing (and politically vicious) name dispute between Greece and Macedonia came from an email we received from a Greek blog follower asking us to please change 'Macedonia' to 'FYROM- Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.'  He went on to say that "Macedonia is located in Northern Greece" and has been for thousands of years.  He concluded that "Hellenic people surely get insulted when somebody tries to grab their history for various reasons."  Whoa - struck a nerve.
The historic region of 'Macedonia' is believed to have covered land in modern day Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia.  The biggest chunks, almost exactly equal parts, were in what is now Greek Macedonia and the Republic of Macedonia.  Still, when Macedonia chose its name after becoming independent of Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece was pissed.  The young country's original flag design was changed to appease their neighbor and NATO accepted them under the provisional name of FYROM for Greece's sake.  
More two decades later, most countries (including the United States, whose State Department list we base our classifications of what is or isn't a European country and what they are named) simply refer to Macedonia as 'Macedonia.'  Greece, however, has succeeded in blocking the struggling country's EU acceptance due to the naming dispute.  Even though the International Court of Justice just ruled that this violated all sorts of agreements between the neighbors, this sort of political road-blocking doesn't look like it will end any time soon.
I wanted to put my passport in a swimming cap and cross the mid-lake border, but Merlin advised against it.  I also didn't have a swimming cap.  It was hard not to think about the dispute looking at the small border lake.  Never have we been so close to the border of a country and felt absolutely none of its influence.  There was no cultural blurring in Dojran.  No signs of stones-throw-away Greece at all.  In fact, Lake Dojran is currently returning to a lot of its cultural roots in an attempt to bolster tourism.  It is a tiny body of water, rich with fish and algae - and Macedonian tradition.
People come here to slather themselves with the lake's seaweed rich mud and swim in the warm water, both believed to cure rheumatism, skin diseases, muscle and bone problems and respiratory diseases.  For over a third of the year, it is a bath-like 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fishing is done in the winter, using an ancient method which employs cormorants.  A band is fashioned around the birds' long necks, just tight enough to prohibit them from being able to swallow larger birds.  They fly out, dive down, swim around, catch fish, eat all the ones that slip down easily and deliver the larger ones to the fishermen.  It's a pretty amazing technique, more famous in China and Japan, and is executed from these fishing huts on stilts in the water.
The tradition was dying out until people realized that tourists would love to see this sort of thing.  Now, plans are underway to start a "old-style fishing school" at Dojran and build traditional korabs for joyrides.  While keeping these old ways alive is important, the byproduct of this sort of enterprising (no doubt inspired by Lake Ohrid's tourism boom) is that little Lake Dojran will be cared for and kept alive.  For lakes, this means kept filled.  After years of using the water to irrigate cropland nearby and for other survival methods, Lake Dojran lost about 30% of its water.

Shallower water must have made it even easier to find the fish!  Legend has it that Herodotus proclaimed, in the 5th century AD, that if one set a basket in the water at night, it would be full by morning.  Just teeming with fishies.  Sources claim that Lake Dojran is the most fish rich lake of its size in Europe.  Of the swimming creatures, the carp is the most famous.  In Macedonian, it is krap - which elicited many giggles.  We'd read that it was the best carp we would ever eat - certainly the best krap - unlike any other we've tasted.  You know what, it's true.  
We ate a crazy looking carp in Germany, ordered carp 'cubes' and 'ribs' in the Czech Republic, compared and contrasted carp-heavy Hungarian fish soup and even used carp scraps for a delicious home-cooked meal in Budapest, but none of it holds a candle to the carp of Lake Dojran.  At a lakefront restaurant named Nota, it was served fried with two lemon water hand baths.  We ate it like fried chicken and it was nearly as juicy, with none of the muddy flavor carp often has.  It reminded me a lot of swordfish, a clean, meaty taste and fatty but toothsome flesh.  Delicious.  I wonder what kind of Lake Dojran fishing rights deal Greece and Macedonia have worked out.

No comments:

Post a Comment