Lou Reed – born March 2 1942 passed away October 27 2013
The gritty humour, candid worldly observation and often brutal honesty embedded in his verse combined with his zero-tolerance-for-bullshit, flat, gravel voiced, deadpan delivery and guitar mastery formed the core of the musical backdrop of my adult life.
The world is left the lesser for his passing.
Magic and Loss indeed. R.I.P. Lou.
The mist rising from the waters of Kotor Bay when we wake has me singing the first verse from the first song ‘My House’ from Lou Reed’s peerless 1982 album ‘The Blue Mask’ in what for me now is a conditioned response.
An image of the poet’s in the breeze
Canadian geese are flying above the trees
A mist is hanging, gently on the lake
My house is very beautiful at night
I am just a slightly more cerebral version of Pavlov’s Dog.
Today is a rarity for us. Our day’s activity is preplanned. Pam has booked a hiking tour of the Lovcen National Park with Adventure Montenegro. We are to meet our guide Rino in front of the restaurant Cesarica in Kotor Old Town and see where the day unfolds from there.
We have set the iphone alarm to ensure we rise early however we are both up and about by the time it sounds.
White mist creeps up the sides of the mountainous embrace of Kotor Bay as the sun climbs higher into the blue skies above.
We breakfast on fruit, the champion marching food. Coming back to our apartment the previous evening we had asked permission to pick some oranges from the heavily fruiting trees in the house yard.
I pack some into my day pack for lunch.
Kotor is still quiet as we make our way down to the old town. There has been no rain for at least the last two days however clean water from the hillside catchment still trickles down drains between buildings.
Omnipresent moss makes focus on each footfall essential to maintain our vertical integrity. The extra support of my Pacerpoles is invaluable in the sometimes slippery conditions.
Pam heads into Kotor Old Town for another of the chocolate swirl topped cappuccinos that the region seems to specialize in while I head to the harbour edge to take a photo of the moored old sailing ship I had so admired the previous day.
Mist is lifting with the rising sun. My bones tell me the day ahead will be warm and fine.
The flat stone streets of Kotor Old Town are wet beneath our feet in the shade of the early morning as we make our way into town looking for the restaurant.
We arrive about quarter of an hour prior to our agreed meeting time of 9:00am and wander aimlessly looking into shop fronts. Walls plastered with shots of Kotor and its surrounds and people having fun are partially hidden behind a decorated Christmas tree inside the restaurant.
Obviously we are in the right place.
At about one minute to nine a medium height, dark brown haired man approaches the restaurant and greets us ‘hello, are you Pam’?
He introduces himself ‘hi I am Rino’, his name is pronounced like the city Reno with a slightly rolling R followed by the hint of an H.
‘Rrheno’ has a warm, firm handshake and immediately seems like a pleasant likable person. He is surprised to find us sitting outside the warmth of the restaurant and asks if we would mind if he spends a moment to go and speak to his staff.
He obviously owns the restaurant and when he returns asks ‘if we have looked at the photos on the wall’ that he has taken of his previous adventure tour activities.
We have no real idea of what is to come next. Rino explains that he is going to drive us to the borders of the Lovcen National Park and we can make some choices as to our options depending on conditions when we arrive.
Sounds good, we stride through the town together, cross the road and get into Rino’s car which is parked in the car park beside Kotor Harbour.
Just before we reach the boom gate to exit, a reversing mini van nearly ploughs into the drivers side where Rino and Pam are sitting.
An incident that could have resulted in the shortest hike in the world is narrowly averted, we breathe out collectively. Rino chats shortly to the person manning the boom gate and we hit the road.
A few hundred meters down road Rino pulls into a servo to fill his car.
Everyone seems to know Rino, people walk over from their cars and shake his hand.
Back on the road we are quickly on the outskirts of Kotor and begin climbing a winding road taking us up the side of the steep hills surrounding the town. The guard rails on the sharp hairpin turns as we climb are numbered. Rino tells us there are 25 numbered curves to reach the top.
The road is so narrow in parts that Rino has to swing out to the side to make it round a corner. Two cars could not traverse the corner at the same time. Even some of the straights are so narrow cars must stop and wait at wider sections to let one and other past.
Rino apologises for driving slowly, ‘it was Christmas yesterday, everyone was celebrating and people may be driving too soon after stopping drinking’.
‘We are in no rush’ we reply ‘better safe than sorry’.
As we climb Rino is pointing out interesting sights and facts, the road was first built by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, original stones from the initial build still stand upright lining the edges every few meters.
Rino is frustrated that occasionally people steal these stones. ‘They have no respect for history’.
He points out a huge nearly invisible soil covered fort on a ridge top that commands a view to the ocean ‘it was so well camouflaged that it has survived two world wars’.
Rino laughs when I ask him ‘if it snows on these mountains’?
He explains that in winter at the altitude we have now reached the road is so deeply covered in snow it must be constantly cleared and that this is the first year in the last ten or more that there has not been deep snow at this time of year.
Occasionally in sections of shadow there is some ice on the road however the experienced Rino has no problems driving around it.
We stop at a bend in the road to take photos.
By now we are already above the few clouds. Kotor and the mirror of its blue bay are far below.
Beyond the crest of the mountain ridge to the west of Kotor we can see the airport and the expanse of the bay series stretching out to the Adriatic Sea beyond.
Rino smiles at me taking hordes of photos with the iphone, he is wielding a massive DSLR and takes a few discrete shots.
‘We will stop higher up at an even better vantage point’ he tells us as we reenter his car.
As we dismount at the second stop I ask Rino ‘if he minds that we take his photo and post it online in our blog’. He is happy to do so.
Our second stop is at another corner in the road, there is a round sight seeing vantage point built from stone and we make our way towards it.
I take more shots of the same views with clouds slightly further beneath our feet than before.
Brown winter denuded trees scrabble for precious topsoil deposits interspersed between the white rock outcrops. The land looks terrifyingly harsh.
Rino tells us ‘he loves to come up to the mountains as it is different every day’.
‘In summer everything is green but winter has it’s own beauty’.
He nods in agreement when we say ‘it must look amazing covered in snow’.
It would be a pleasure to stand and just watch the world turn on it’s axis from such a vantage point however our day is only beginning. We pile back into the car and drive on.
The road becomes even narrower than before, we wind our way through groves of leafless brown trees until we come to a fork in the road.
‘Now you have a choice’ says Rino. ‘We can either go to the Mausoleum or we can go for a hike in the hills, what would you like to do’?
We confer for a moment, I don’t really have any idea what the Mausoleum Rino is talking about is.
‘A little from column A a little from column B, can we do both’? asks Pam.
Rino seems pleased with her response, he is not sure if the Mausoleum is open and proposes we drive there first and if it is open we will walk there and then go for a short hike after.
We take a left turn at the fork and drive on. There are some little settlements here, small stone houses. Fields between low, stone, soil preserving walls.
Rino grimaces in distaste as we pass a house built from concrete, ‘houses should be built with local stones to fit with the land’.
We make our way up a steep road where ice is becoming more frequent and park in the car park below its peak. Though we still have further to climb even from the car park the views are stunning.
We are now at the base of the Mausoleum area for the Bishop-Prince Petar II Petrovic Njegos.
Born in a rural village 13 November 1813 and growing up with illiterate peasants he left the village at the age of eleven to be educated in the Cetijne Monastary and became Prince-Bishop of Montenegro at age seventeen.
As a ruler he was a reformer who struggled to introduce fair taxation and laws based on human rights into the clans of the mountain dwelling communities.
Willing to concede his princely rights in the struggle to liberate his people he was revered as a ruler and philosopher who laid the foundations for modern political concepts in Montenegro.
He was also a prolific, widely acclaimed, playwright and poet who reputedly came often to the serenity of Mt Lovcen to gather his thoughts and write until his untimely death from tuberculosis 31 October 1851 at the age of 37.
Prior to his death he designed and erected a church dedicated to St. Petar Cetinski at the peak of Mt Lovcan and requested his remains be interred there after his passing.
During the First World War this chapel was destroyed and his remains were moved and returned in 1925 to the ruins. Eventually in 1952 the then communist rulers of the Montenegrin region decided to replace the ruins of the original chapel with a controversial Mausoleum designed by the Croatian architect and sculptor Ivan Mestrovic.
The current Mausoleum structure was completed in 1974 and is reached via stairs passing through a vast white tunnel that bores its way through the rock of the mountain peak climbing towards the structure above.
I am doing my best to take photos and keep up with Pam and Rino who are chatting together as we climb the 461 stairs that take us to the peak.
Cool air from above is rushing down the tunnel as we make our way up, finally we exit onto a paved pathway that follows the ridge crest to the Mausoleum building.
Stunning views of the harsh surrounding countryside stretch to distant horizons.
We enter the stone walls surrounding the mausoleum and are confronted by two enormous statues of women guarding the studded wooden entrance door.
Inside the chamber houses a massive 28 ton granite statue bearing the likeness of Bishop-Prince Petar II Petrovic Njegos with a fierce bird of prey perched upon his shoulder. Rino tells us that the statue was carved from a single piece of stone by Ivan Mestrovic.
Thousands of Venetian tiles made from actual gold lining the vaulted ceiling create a dazzling sky.
Careful well executed design, there are no substitutes.
Effect is cumulative, profound
Stairs climb chilled air rushing down
Embrace walls white succumb surround
Burst vast into the blue beyond
Dare tightrope tripping balanced crest
Azure horizons ring in precipice
Fair maidens bid stern welcome
Proffer reward offered seldom
Under arched sky towering golden
Granite Ruler from age olden
Dark Justice on his shoulder
Unfurls wild wings
Another pathway atop precipice takes us from the mausoleum to a circular stone viewpoint beyond.
I mostly find gravestones and mausoleums leave me feeling earthbound and moribund. Bound by inscription and imposed belief.
There is some vibration, some universal alignment happening atop this peak that elevates and releases. No clinging messages cloying possible pathways to the infinite.
Though the grave is not my preference I understand why someone might wish their earthly remains be interred here after death.
Passing the mausoleum as we head back towards the stairs I find an uneven cobblestone, trip and tumble, nearly over the edge.
‘Just leave my bones here if I fall’ I joke to Pam who is having her usual giggling fit in response to my mishap.
Rino stack stones atop one another in a fashion we have seen often on the Camino. ‘I started this tradition here’ he proudly tells us.
I pick up plastic bottles deposited beside the path by some uncaring moronic visitors. Rino seems pleased and joins me in a quick emu parade.
Rather than follow the broad steps of the tunnel in descent Rino leads us down narrow twisting stone stairs that climb down the exterior of the rocky slope.
We wind our way down bathed by sun and sky.
Back at the fork where Rino offered us choices for action we turn left and make our way to a well kept hotel for refreshments. Rino seems to know everyone and stops to shake hands and chat.
After our stop we drive into the hills and park the car near a loose gathering of rural homes.
A gravel road diverts from the bitumen, we begin our hike. A few hundred meters on just beyond the first curve in the road the hillside plunges into the clouds below our feet.
I leave Pam and Rino chatting on the path and make my way to the edge.
Views extend to the distant fusion of sky and sea.
Selene hovers high in daylight favour above the trees.
‘There will be plenty of photo opportunities up higher’ smiles Rino on my return.
Most assuredly he is correct. We walk on, the gravel road winding under stripped boughs of winter trees takes us back to the edge over and over as we climb.
I do my best to wring every beam of light into the tiny iphone lens.
About three quarters of an hour into our hike Rino pauses at a path marker to ask if we would prefer to continue higher or return.
Our obvious delight in continuing earns another quiet smile. ‘Shall we go to the top then’?
Rino is in good shape and marches on like a machine as the climb steepens. Pam is matching him however I am dropping behind as I stop for photos and breath.
The last few twists and turns have me gasping, ‘how high are we and is the air getting thinner’? I ask joking.
Each drop of sweat has been worthwhile. Our path ends in the dismantled remains of an old artillery bunker. We scrabble up the scree edges.
There are no words. I get an inkling of the mountain climber’s intangible reward.
Fair weather has us fixed clean in it’s sights. The day is still and splendid. Rino rustles through his pack and offers us chocolate bars.
Pam and I politely refuse, we are deep immersed in nature and take a seat on the outer wall of the artillery pit and peel our oranges.
Sweet Montenegrin sunlight harvested as fructose delights.
Rino points out our surrounds. To the West lies the Adriatic Sea.
North West we can see the borders of Montenegro and Croatia as well as the mountainous border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
North East has a horizon ending with the peaks of the borders between Montenegro and Serbia. Kosovo lies due East.
To the South East we can see to Albania.
From where we stand the entirety of Montenegro stretches out for our viewing pleasure.
The possibility of standing on a mountain peak from whence I can view an entire country is something that has previously never entered my imagination.
For a moment I am Zeus, feet braced upon Olympus, a lightning bolt ready in each hand.
The thought of our knee grinding descent to come returns me humble to myself.
Our return to the car passes quickly. Rino has warmed to us and chats about his family and his previous work as a ships captain. He has travelled all round the world making fabulous money however modern shipping practices with quick turnarounds that allow no time on shore have become so tiresome to him he has chosen a new path for his life.
‘It was a very well paid prison’ he jokes. ‘You have a fantastic office now’ I respond. He laughs in agreement.
Today Rino runs his adventure business, hiking tours, kayak tours in Kotor Bay. A delightful restaurant in the Old Town.
He loves his ‘work’ and it shows in each step he takes.
We chat about Australia and its natural beauty. Rino is fascinated with ‘The Red Rock’ at it’s desert center. ‘It is called Uluru now and we were there last year’ we tell him.
All too soon we are back at the car and returning along the narrow twisting road we ascended in the morning. Rino has had the radio tuned to a station playing old Montenegrin ballads however suddenly changes the station to one playing English pop songs as we descend.
The B-52’s blast out ‘The Love Shack’ as we pop from a small tunnel into the very thick cloud enveloping the mountain side.
Not long ago we were bathed in sunshine looking out over this cloud like gods.
Back in Kotor Rino passes the Old Town as the sun sinks below the mountain tops. He has not realised we intend to have dinner in his restaurant tonight.
Once we make our plans known he drops us at the little bridge that crosses the fresh water stream welling from the mountain side. Rino tells us there are many of these natural springs nearby and that the fifty meter deep spring that feeds this stream is the deepest in the Kotor area.
Informative to the last second of our tour. We shake hands and wish each other well in parting.
Such is our great fortune. A magnificent radiant sun filled windless winter day high in the stark Montenegrin mountains under the informative gentle guidance of a lovely knowledgable local.
We are dining out, our meals are delicious, we buy a bottle of local wine and tip Rino’s staff well.
Back in the Kotor night we climb mossy stairs with heavy legs and light hearts.
A gentle knock at our door surprises us soon after we enter our apartment. The beautiful daughter is at our door to ensure our trip planned for tomorrow to the Ostrog Monastery with her parents is still on.
She passes me a big bag full of oranges.
Pam and Mick