I stay with stoners in Zagreb. Musicians who smoke Balkan weed constantly and tell me stories and sing and play for me. It’s January, and the temperatures hover around zero fahrenheit. I spend a surprising amount of time outside hunting brutalist architecture through the bitter cold and desolate streets – which makes an even better backdrop for my finds.
The evenings are spent getting high on shitty Albanian weed, until I intervene and pay for the Croatian good stuff, which is not actually that good.
Every town in Albania grows weed. It used to supply most of Europe, but in order to strengthen the bid for the EU, Albania cracked down and burnt the fields of innocent villagers just trying to make a buck, forcing the traffickers to switch to hard drugs – which take up less space, and bring a higher profit. So now the weed is an afterthought, and the questionable quality wanes.
I’m told that the Albanians hate the Serbians, as do most of the Balkans, and so when the bales are headed to Serbia they piss on them first. I’m sure that Mexicans do the same to weed headed for Gringolandia. Unfortunately sometimes Balkan weed bricks just go unspecifically Northwards, and so Croatia also gets pissed upon in the process. And so it goes in this war-torn part of the world.
Speaking of Mexican brick weed, Albanian weed is the same quality.
Seeing it brings me back to $24 ounces in the mid-1990’s, before California legalized medical marijuana and set the tide of legalization in the United States in motion (these past few years, more cannabis now passes over the US-Mexican border North to South than does South to North).
I remember full well buying a brick of this in some crappy apartment from a barely documented Mexican immigrant that spoke no English and worked at the drive-through window at a Carl’s Jr. He had nunchucks hanging on his wall and kept handing me Tecates even after I made it clear I don’t drink beer, saying “OK then, mas por me!” with a phlegm-tinged laugh every time.
It’s crappy brown grass compressed into bricks. Mostly stems, flat seeds and all. It gives everyone in Zagreb a headache and they’re happy when I slap down some kuna and earmark it for the good stuff. The Croatian weed is fine, it isn’t that potent but it does its job. Seems a little Indica-balanced for my tastes. I roll my own because everyone else is mixing with tobacco. It’s the European way. Balkan weed is done the same.
My hosts do it to be thrifty, they say, but I doubt that the issues from smoking tobacco every time they want weed will be low-cost.
My host sings songs she has retrieved from the Balkan countryside. Songs her foremothers sang while working the fields. She finds old people in villages to sing them to her, and then transcribes them to save them. They move me. All Balkan music does. My people passed through here, once. I feel it in my blood.
Her singing partner visits frequently. I hear he is married with a child, which is altogether too bad, because he is tall, and hot, and says things that make me wet in a halting Croatian accent, needing much translation from my hosts.
One night, Rakija is added into the mix.
It’s apple flavored, and comes in a clear bottle with no label. Someone made this beautiful Croatian moonshine, but no one knows who. They aren’t big drinkers and neither am I, but my joy for this new distillate is infectious and we all get drunk. There is singing and smoking and I wish that I knew the language, but love listening to it even without comprehension.
I visit Medika, the Autonomous Cultural Center, but apparently anarchists don’t do winter. It’s shut tight. I don’t get the chance to try their Balkan weed.
My next stop after Zagreb is Sarajevo, and the mood darkens. I’m staying in a host’s place while they are out of town, in Oman. They leave the key for me. It’s a tall building with a great view of the industrial minefield that is Sarajevo in 2019. Across the street are shacks with holes in the walls and roof. There are still bulletholes and artillery stains riddling the city, even twenty-five years hence. It’s still bitterly cold. There’s graffiti reminding me of Srebrenica not too far from the place, I walk by it every day and shudder.
The air smells of sulphur, the city makes up an inversion bowl, and it traps in all the fumes. Sarajevo smells of war.
It only takes me about twenty minutes to find my host’s stash. I open a cupboard and am faced with a Kinderegg, though banned in the US because they contain small parts that US children would be stupid and unsupervised enough to swallow, the yellow plastic casing means only one thing to me. A convenient way to store drugs. I’ve stored everything from weed to DMT in the ones that trickle through US borders into my hands.
I open it and indeed, there’s a few nugs tightly wrapped in plastic. Extracting the tiniest amount, I smoke the Balkan weed out of aluminum foil that I fold into a pipe. I steal a screen from the sink to filter it, and replace it after I am done. It is not bad. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s not Albanian. Unless they save the good stuff for the Bosnians.
I stand in the spot where Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated. I stand on the spot where his assassin shot from. Pondering the 20th century.
There’s a line that separates Austro-Hungarian Sarajevo from Ottoman Sarajevo. I stand there too, straddling it. I don’t know which side I prefer, but I’m more comfortable on the Ottoman side. There’s too much pomp and square corners in Austro-Hungarian architecture.
And all the while I think of Yugoslavia.
I was there. In 1988. I was young, and my memories are of the first place I had been in the Olde Worlde that was to my eyes at the time undeveloped. But now the country is no more, and these Balkan countries seem so different from one another that it’s hard for me to believe there was ever unity.
For a Cold War, it certainly led to much bloodshed.
I drove from South to North through the Eastern part of Yugoslavia. I remember whole villages coming out of their houses to wave at the car as we passed through. Never did get to smoke their weed, and now I never will. But now, on my trip through the Western part, I am in uncharted territory.
On the bus out of Sarajevo to Podgorica, a woman repeatedly tries to pickpocket me. She unzips my pocket, I zip it back up. She unzips, I zip. It happens three times, until I belt out in a loud USAmerican accent…
“One more try, cunt, and you’ll leave with broken fingers.”
At this point, seats are given up to me. The majority don’t want me to suffer here. There’s been enough suffering.
There is no hope for the Balkans until the lines are re-drawn. How could anyone in Dayton, Ohio, USA have any idea what they were doing. How could they not.
So much conflict has been wrought. Even the Balkan weed takes sides.
Weed in other difficult places:
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