The easiest way I can think of explaining what Tose Proeski (Тоше Проески) means in Macedonia is to say that he is to Macedonians what Princess Diana is to the rest of the world. Proeski was a top Macedonian singer, popular all around the Balkans, known for his music, his humanitarian work and his phrase, “ве сакам ситe” (I love you all). Four years ago he died in a car crash in Croatia, when he was just 26.
I was in Macedonia a few months before I even heard of Tose. He’s a constant presence in Macedonian households, not Albanian ones, but partway through training I saw his portrait in the home of a volunteer living with a Macedonian Orthodox family. I asked if he was a cousin, trying to figure out why there were so many photos of him in the sitting room, and got my first lesson in Macedonian music.
Tose wasn’t just a musician to Macedonians; he was a symbol for the country and its rise, its great hope. At the time of his death he was working on his first English-language album, The Hardest Thing.
What I’m trying to get at here is that a pilgrimage to Tose’s hometown of Krusevo is something that must. be. done., and I finally did it, with two other volunteers, Jane and Katie. Our trip to the town from Bitola should have taken about an hour, but that it didn’t seemed fitting. The Bitola-Krusevo bus time we’d been told was incorrect, so we had to wait in the station an extra hour; then there was a police stop and we all had to get off the bus for fifteen minutes; then the bus broke down just outside Demir Hisar because, to quote the driver, “a part fell off”; then the driver and his assistant vanished, without a word, leaving us to stand next to the bus for thirty minutes; then we at last abandoned ship, walked into a few stores asking about taxis to Krusevo, and for 200 denars each made the last thirty minutes of our trip in a stylish minivan. (It has been a while since any of us have seen one, so that praise is genuine.)
Krusevo is not only the highest town in Macedonia but home to the Tose Proeski Memorial House. I was surprised by how well-done this museum was. There were stands where you could listen to Tose’s music, some very cool sections of wall and glass with etchings of Tose’s lyrics, two floor-to-ceiling segments of wall devoted to photos of Tose, and displays featuring such varied items as Tose’s numchuks, trainerkis, dental floss and Secretariat DVD.
Just up the hill from the Tose Musuem is the Macedonian Monument, commemorating the 1903 Ilinden Uprising, a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Being the classy volunteers that we are, Jane, Katie and I took the opportunity to walk around humming the Death Star theme from Star Wars and taking glamour shots in front of the monument.
After a quick coffee (when we had the chance to watch the town cheer on the Macedonian basketball team, who after beating Greek and Lithuania were playing Spain in a[n ultimately failed] bid for an Olympic shot, if I’ve got this right [I know so much about sports]) we took a kombi to Prilep. This was my first visit to Prilep and its famed Thai restaurant. I was pretty pleased with myself when I got back home the next day, able to check two more things off my Macedonia To-Do List.