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Always time for a drink in part of Montenegro


The Perjanic was owned and manned by an unshaven, bespectacled man of around sixty. His name was Ivan, he had just returned from Melbourne after twenty years of living there yet his command of English was fragile to say the least. Good enough however to explain his life story (he was born in Serbia) and introduce the different coloured brandies in the specimen jars behind him as though each was a cherished member of his family. He was clearly quite a character and talked all the way upstairs as he led me to the only room (of three) available that evening.

The bed was a mattress of sorts covered with a black nylon sheet, the walls were bright orange and the curtain was a torn piece of material that covered half the window. The scant bit of furniture could have been plucked from the local tip and the bright green paintings were at best mysterious. It was truly hideous. The only redeeming feature was that the room boasted an en-suite with a shower and a toilet though the sink had long since been removed and, on that particular afternoon, a dead grasshopper had taken its place.

“It’s 40 Euro” Ivan ventured, shrugging his shoulders as if to acknowledge that he couldn’t possibly ask any more. That he was the only show in town helped his cause enormously so I shook hands on the deal and promised to join him in the bar later.

My fellow guests got there first. A Belgian couple, so charmed by Ivan’s hospitality that they’d returned for the second time in a week, were sipping on beers with two men from Innsbruck. The Austrians turned out to be father and son who were heading towards Albania on a trans-European motor bike adventure and they had many an interesting story to tell, as indeed did our gregarious host. I sensed we were in for an evening of fun.

The wacky Ivan convinced me that his eel was the finest money could buy and his wife would prepare it for my dinner. At least I thought he said eel. Or was it veal? Or even heel? The assembled drinkers encouraged me to go for it anyway and sure enough, several beers and a few glasses of wine later, the plate was delivered.

The fish, if that’s what we call it, was neither long nor slimy but looked much like a pile of spare ribs. A preliminary, self-conscious, tinkering around with the cutlery suggested that it was also best consumed in a rib-like manner and so, reluctantly, hands and teeth were engaged to prize the oily meat from the central bone. It probably tasted OK but was smothered in pieces of garlic the size of pineapple chunks, as was the potato and cucumber that completed the feast. As an event it kept everybody well entertained, particularly the lucky folk whose choice of food had enabled them to enjoy dinner without being immersed from head to toe in grease. I decided drinking was more fun.

It was the moment Ivan had been waiting for. He grabbed his beloved specimen bottles from the shelf behind the bar, painstakingly lined them up on the dining table around which we all sat and set about a passionate presentation of each and every one. These waters of fire derived from apricots and plums and quince and figs and apples and walnuts and a baffling assortment of other things that you or I have never even heard of. The liquids were mostly clear but there were also yellows and greens and even a bright red to lure you on board.

To our host’s delight we all chose a few different ones and those that went unchosen he poured out anyway. Each shot would be taken back in one go, as is the norm with these schnappsy concoctions, the displeasure so intense that no sane person would seek to prolong the experience. You neck it in one, everybody claps, your eyes water, boiling acid consumes your innards. And then you do it again.

It is a form of insanity that could be considered socially acceptable around midnight but how would you feel about a couple of shots with your juice and cornflakes in the morning? When I noticed Ivan had one on the go at breakfast next day I knew he would enjoy my raising the subject:

“I never, ever drink until afternoon, he announced very earnestly, but today my friend came for coffee at 6am. He takes a drink, I must drink also. This is Montenegro”.

The conversation moved on to the Montenegrin breathalyser, a subject that provoked howls of laughter. It was important to understand that Montenegro is a small country, everybody is related to one another and no policeman would ever want to make a problem for a member of his own family. At which point my taxi driver came into the bar, ordered a large bottle of beer, lit up a smoke and announced that we would be leaving in ten minutes time.

Extract taken from Ten Letter Countries.
9781780880754, £10.00, published 10th April 2012

The Ten-Letter Countries is an insight into the history, geography and politics of twelve fascinating countries through the eyes of The Alphabet Traveller. Each country David visited had 10 letters to its name. It follows on from his earlier adventure, The Four Letter Countries

Both books can be ordered from www.troubador.co.uk or www.alphabet-traveller.com

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