Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Not To Dwell

Not to dwell on this prom thing, because after all I'm 32 years old and so out of touch with high school culture that the other day I greeted a 15-year-old high schooler--and she is the first live one I've had a conversation with in about 15 years--with a friendly "Hey Yo!" and she laughed and say I was too old to say that. Bitch.

But it turns out that what I thought was a shallow American obsession with a bizarre coupling ritual in which teenagers get dressed up to look like extras on Dynasty and, frequently, behave accordingly, is actually not just an American obsession.

It turns out that the prom tradition is also thriving in...Skopje, Macedonia. For those of you not intimately familiar with the many countries that spun off from the former Yugoslavia (but who isn't really?), Macedonia is a small country in Southeastern Europe that borders Greece and Montenegro. And while Montenegro may sound like a cocktail made with some sweet brown liqueur and a couple shots of vodka and a dash of cream, well, it's actually a country. The capital of Macedonia is Skopje (scope-ya), which looks and feels as grey and post-communist as its name sounds. The city is polluted, the architecture isn't so much architecture as decaying 1970s leftovers of Tito's lack of city planning, and the dietary staples are grilled animal and feta cheese and a deliciously oily red pepper spread. But the people are very merry. And the young people worship prom.

Two of these lovely young people, 17-year-old high school seniors Sanya and Lazar, were telling me that prom is a massive blow-out night. The girls spend months shopping for dresses, the boys do dark shirts and dark ties, and the catered affairs take place in the gand ballrooms of such high-end venues as Skopje's downtown Holiday Inn, and the Alexander Palace Hotel. Not sure where the girls get the dresses cuz I did take a spin through the Skopje mall and the dresses seemed more suitable for, say, Ukrainian prostitutes, but that's just my taste.

And the Alexander and Holiday Inn hotels are quite grand compared to the humble hostel where I slept and took my meals of pasta (they called the red sauce "ketchup" and they weren't really being metaphorical) and mashed potatoes (one part powder, one part vegetable shortening), the modest Hotel Tasino Cesmice (it means "little pipe" in Macedonian, but the only pipe I saw was the big industrial chimney pipe right next door that seemed to be smoking black stuff every morning).

And not only are they big into the prom in Skopje, they even have a whole series of pre-prom parties. That's right, for a whole month before the big night, in all the hot discoteques and happening bars of the city, each senior class gets together for a whole series of weekly parties called pre-proms. Basically, given the 10,000-proof Rakia, the local Macedonian firewater, not unlike brandy but with a little more bang for your dinar, if you see what I mean, these kids are wasted for a month. Which is smart, because that way they won't drink and dance on the real big night.

In brief, if they'd had Araki and Ukrainian prostitute dresses in Ithaca, New York, in 1990, I'm thinking that prom might have been a better time instead of an extended attempt to sneak booze into the Ramada Inn before trying to sneak booze into the after-party at the Econolodge.


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