Outside and Inside: Peja Street by Sweet Bean Cafe

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The Street at Schooltime, Pen & Coloured Pencil – Peja, Kosova, 2014

Sweet Bean Cafe, Pencil – Peja, Kosova, 2014


Flash Art


I love flash mob. Something about seemingly-spontaneous dancing in public can bring me to tears. As if there is always the possibility of something surprising bursting into the mundane.

A few years ago I was in Charlotte airport, USA, and was delighted to hear a pianist playing a grand piano in one of the waiting areas. Since I had time to kill between flights, I found a perch in an upper level where I had a bird’s-eye-view of the pianist. He played, I drew.

After two sketches and several beautiful songs, I headed to my next flight, and dropped the sketches into his tip jar on the piano. He smiled and nodded at me as he continued to play. I like the idea of art exchange – he gave me an unexpected concert, and I gave him some sketches. Art created together, simultaneously, unconsciously affecting each other. It’s the type of thing I should do more often. It’s the type of thing I hope others will be inspired to do. What a world to live in, when art bursts out in unexpected places, surprising even we who make it.

It’s just a stove

Kosovar Stove, Study #1 pen and watercolour
Kosovar Stove, Study #1
pen and watercolour

It’s just a stove, but in winter in Kosova it is so much more.

I never thought that when I came to Kosova I’d learn to split wood, build fires, and tend the fire so that it doesn’t go out and leave me to freeze in my apartment. However, in a society where the electricity is undependable and expensive, this wood-burning stove is a welcome source of heat. It is in fact our only source of heat, and so a sort of love-hate relationship has developed between us and the stove. On the days when the wood is wet (of no fault of the stove’s), it seems that the fire is our worst enemy simply because it will not light. At the moment when the fire begins to burn well and and I hear the beloved sound of crackling, I sit down beside it and feel that it is my best friend. When I spent this past winter in the US, with central heating instead of my not-so-trusty stove, I found myself missing those moments of scooting a chair up to the stove and stretching my hands over it for instant warmth.

Kosovar Stove, Study #2  pen and coloured pencil
Kosovar Stove, Study #2
pen and coloured pencil

In Kosova the main word for stove is the Albanian word “shporet.” However, this is more to describe wood-burning stoves that double as an oven for baking. We don’t have one of these, and so the pictures I’ve painted are of what is more specifically known in Albanian as a “karmin,” a wood-burning stove without an oven. The little “karmin” in the two pictures above is the one from my old apartment.

I didn’t set out to be a stove-artist, but when I had nothing or no-one else to draw in the apartment, I turned to the stove as my muse. It’s funny how that stove began to take on a personality of its own. It was as if it were the fourth person living in the apartment: the one who stayed home all day while the rest of us were gone, and kept the house warm.

Kosovar Stove, Study #3 pencil
Kosovar Stove, Study #3

I eventually moved to a new apartment and had to get a new stove (the third picture). It looked strangely to me like the ‘daleks’ from the sci-fi show Dr. Who, an alien life form designed for 1960s television. The interior of the stove was also different, and so all over again I underwent the frustration of figuring out the best way to build fires and to fit the wood inside of it. A little part of me felt I could not betray my old stove by liking the new one better. Still, the new stove has also proven to be mostly faithful, and to have kept us warm.

If anything, it has taught me a new sort of patience in Kosova. After all, it’s just a stove.