But in 1977, as we drove through Yugoslavia from Greece to Austria, pretty much oblivious to their situation, we were struck by two things: the countryside was beautiful, and the people, for the most part, looked very unhappy. The only happy faces we saw were those of a few farmers who waved from their oxcarts and smiled as they drove along near us on the byroads. City people generally wore dark clothes (gray, black, or brown), and their facial expressions were troubled and joyless. Right or wrong, those were my impressions.
The rural area reminded us of Alberta, Canada, with its slightly rolling hills and huge sections of farmland, but the houses were unique to Yugoslavia. Most had the same construction, squarish houses with red tile roofs and very few windows, all small. It was September and the red peppers had been harvested and strung up to dry, dangling from the eaves of many a rooftop.
We had been driving for a long time, without finding a place to pull off the road to heat up some leftovers for lunch in our camper van. At last, we saw a pull out area and took advantage of the chance to stop for a rest and a bite to eat. Beside the pullout in both directions, were acres and acres of grapevines.
While I heated up lunch, the Captain sneaked a bunch of grapes that temptingly hung over the fence. No sooner had he broken off a bunch than we heard shouting. A man wearing military style clothing brandished a rifle and yelled angrily. I thought we were going to jail.
“Okay, okay.” The Captain reached for his wallet. “How about I pay for the grapes?”
The man waved him away and threatened him with the rifle again. But when the Captain pulled out a 50 dinar note ($3), the rifle was lowered. Sheepishly, the man took the money and then said something in a friendlier tone.
They shook hands, and I asked the man if we could take his picture.
He shook his head vigorously. Definitely not! He flapped his arms as if trying to erase us from the face of the earth.
“Okay fine. No pictures.”
But as he hustled away, I snapped a quick one with my point and click camera from inside the van.
Not wanting to hang around there any longer than we had to, we grabbed some of the half made lunch to eat as we drove. At least we would have our expensive bunch of grapes to nibble for dessert.
The Captain looked for traffic as he turned out onto the road. Behind us, a car had its signal light on, to pull into the spot we were leaving.
I looked back at the grapes, wistfully, and saw the military man crouching down in his hiding place, preparing to scare another 50 dinars out of his next victim.