We spent half of the day driving through northern Greece, stopping here and there to pee at gas stations. They were nothing like the gas stations back home. Instead of Taco Bell/KFC combination Shells with a shitter around the back that's out of soap and filled with flies, these were privately owned, landscaped gas-and-snack resorts. Flowers bloomed along stone walkways that lead to huge, wooden doors, where upon entering you were swallowed up by a beautiful wooden room, bathed in sun, with baskets and barrels in every shade of brown and beige. Locally made delights took the place of name brand potato chips. Soft coconut candies. Halva. Huge sheets of baklava sat in oversized tupperwear containers on wooden tables. Buckets of nuts lined the floors. Shelves were filled with stuffed grape leaves, stuffed red peppers, stuffed fried eggplants. A cafe started inside and spilled onto a lush patio. Aging Greeks in loose but stylish clothing talked loudly and drank espresso. This much culture... at a gas station?
Macedonia. Where the hell is that? I knew nothing of Macedonia, had no idea what to expect. I imaged us playing in a perfectly preserved medieval fortress filled with knights and wooden wheeled buggies and probably dragons.
We met the promoter at his house. He was far more hardcore kid than medieval knight, which bode far better for our show than my imagination's Macedonians had. He brought out dinner- roasted potatoes, some kind of wheat-meat (which, btw, is very tasty and very cheap in eastern Europe- like .80 for a bag the size of a box of cereal), and a stew. I made myself a plate and sat on the stone steps beside his house, flowers bending in the breeze next to me, kittens playing at my feet. I took a bite of the wheat meat, and traveled back in time... back to... what was that flavor? I chewed in fog, scanning my memory bank for what I was eating. Ribs! Ribs so soft they're falling off the bone! I looked down at my plate. That was fake, wasn't it? It was stringy like meat. It smelled like meat. It tasted like meat. Oh no... But he kid had said it was vegan. Hmmm. Dave went to find out. "So, this stuff is really good... what's it made of?"
Wheat gluten. It was wheat gluten!!! Holy shit! I couldn't believe it. I scarfed the tender vegan ribs, the "chicken" stew, the roasted potatoes. Shit, this is one of the best meals I've ever had. The day was off to a great start. And it was going to get better.
Kumanovo is an interesting, culturally rich little city. Pierce, Dave, and I all wandered around town and all agreed that it was one of the nicest places we'd been in awhile. Buildings curved around corners, fell and rose with hills and dips, squeezed together so tightly they reminded me of a sandwich with too many things inside, like at any moment a building could pop right out of the ground and shoot up like a rocket (or like a pepper out of a Govinda's cheesesteak.) Old was crammed next to new, things distinctly Macedonian were smooshed in with things western. For example: next to the bright, modern venue teeming with punk rock kids was a blacksmith. Like literally, a single middle aged man with blackened hands in a sooty room with no floor, nails and axes and sickles that he had made hanging around him, and in the center of it all, an anvil. Then next to him was an ad for the new Ice Age movie (dubbed in Macedonian), next to kiosks selling little toys, crackers, pinwheels, next to a sprawling nike store, next to a small, Macedonian dress shop, so filled with women that I could hardly get around.
As we wandered around and back to the venue, next to the woman selling chocolate popcorn made in a movie theatre popcorn popper, Dave and I saw a man charring corn cobs on a tiny broken grill. We went to investigate. Vegan, 1 Euro. We were in. While our cobs cooked we talked with him and the popcorn lady in simple english. They couldn't believe that chocolate popcorn wasn't a common thing in America, the corn man was in a gypsie band. That was about all we could talk about before we ran out of words, and our corn was done. The man salted them and put them back in the husk, then handed them to us. I'm not sure how, but the grilling has almost made the kernels gummy, which sounds gross but was actually delicious. We munched all the way back to the venue, which had filled up, and after a few games of spider solitaire (a most addictive game that came with my computer), it was time to play.
The crowd was a mix of hardcore kids, alternative types, and other young, interested parties that I wouldn't be able to categorize. Surprising to us, some people knew the words. I felt really relaxed all day and hadn't bothered putting on a bra (which I always wear but this day I was like, "fuck it, I'm in Macedonia... I'll just air out."), which I hadn't thought I'd notice- and I hadn't as we walked around- but as I got to jumping around on stage... holy shit. I felt like they were going to bounce and break right off of me. It was painful, like running up the stairs in the morning before you get dressed... ladies, I know you feel me on this. By the second song I had given up being airborn in any way, even walking across the stage was done carefully. God damn.
It'd be awhile since some good ol' European honesty, so after our set we got a dose. "You guys are good..." Oh, thanks! "... but your drummer is killing you." Oh... thanks... (for the record our drummer was a fill-in)
After saying our thank yous and goodbyes we piled back in the van for another overnight drive, this time to Budapest- but before the van door closed, a little kid that is best described as a real-life Macedonian version of Bart Simpson, walked over to us with a smirk on his face that read "watch me fuck with these chumps", held his hand out demandingly, and shouted "MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!" Some people in van the van said no, some laughed, Dave told him that some people across the street looked like they had money, I told someone to close the door, but before any of this reached the kid or be done, good ol' Hell-Bent reached out and shoved him. I'm serious. He actually pushed a 9 year old.
"Dude did you seriously just push that little kid?" Silence. If I disliked Hell-Bent before, I fucking hated him now.
Next to the van, the seemingly unharmed Macedonian Bart Simpson lit a cigarette. We pulled out and drove silently into the night.