Guide to SKOPJE

See you in “Van Gogh”!

“Van Gogh” is not only a name of a cafe in Skopje. Today  it has reached a point when it is considered as a toponym. Its one of the cult places which exists more than two decades. It has passed through various stages, led by people with different visions. For those who remember it from the beginning, nothing will replace the late eighties …

One day, Secko showed up in the neighbourhood. Many people already knew him as one of the most interesting underground guitarists from Skopje, the core of “Last Expedition” the band from the ‘Hood. He said: “What are you doing? How are you? Let me take you to one place.” It was easy to be “seduced”  by someone who was a messenger of the progressive, the underground, a “neighborhood dude” who always  shared some interesting music , so I somehow naturally accepted him as  “the older brother” while my own brother served in the troops of JNA.
The Fall, 1989. We went to the place which already became popular around the city through the word of mouth. We spoke about it with the people who we met on the occasional concerts at the     “Youth center 25 Maj”, the present day MCC(MKC).  It was love at first sight. We went to a place which was difficult to get separated from in the following years, or at least during the time while the “film” I first saw lasted. We found a place where we spent our time during the important historical events – the end of Yugoslavia and the beginnings of independent Macedonia – a time landmark for thousands of young people from Skopje. The place where we spent the nights when the referendum votes were counted, when  JNA was recruiting  our friends for the front  in Croatia.  Those were the nights when there were a lot of girls, since the boys were hiding from the JNA military police. There was no man who was playing, collecting and discovering  new music,  painting, writing, sculpting, acting .. who gravitated  toward the underground art, who was not going out in “Van Gogh”, before “Van Gogh” and  on the wall opposite of “Van Gogh”.

The night began in 8 in the evening. If you came a little bit earlier, you would have seen Tase and Zoki Pankerot arriving in their dark blue “Citroen-spachek” with the daily  procurements.  In any case, in just few minutes the members of the  various circles were starting to arrive, shaking hands with the welcoming hosts, already seated at the tables of the cafe; saying hello to the other guest who came first. You have sipped one third of your drink. Yawn and starting to feel bored. Waiting to see somebody,  to decide where to go – inside, outside or on the opposite wall. With the last third of the beer, cognac, vodka, the quorum was sufficient. Starting to recognize the music which announced the next stage of the evening.Than you  got it – the tape who is on will dictate the fluid of the evening – We will be saving  our energy , or we will be “driven” to euphoria, all together, as always.
Wherever you stood ..  on or by the few tables on the both sides of the unmarked entry path; leaning on the counter; standing upon the wall, beside the “type with the toothache” from the images of Gligor Chemerski, “The Girl” by Nikola Martinoski, “The type” in oil on canvas by Sergej Andreevski or beside the legendary image of Gligor Chemerski with the lyrics of Bogomil Guzel. (“Wakeful night that can not be compensated with anything”) wherever you caught  the announcement, you already knew that there will be good mood and you will be surrounded with nice creative  people with whom you  will always find something nice to chat about.

“From this perspective, I feel  great excitement. ‘Van Gogh’ was really a cult place. Everything started with my great passion for painting. But I didn’t manage to get enrolled at the art academy, so I studied something else. But still the passion for painting was haunting me.  At that time we began to visit museums, I went to Holland in the Van Gogh Museum and loved it very much. When I returned to Skopje, I wanted to do something else besides the studies. I already knew many people, so in 1986 I decided to open a cafe in the house of my grandfather. I wanted to do something that will be totally different from the typical Skopje “scheme”  in that period.  So ‘Van Gogh’ was opened “says the always positive and smiling Tase – as we all know it, or officially Zoran Tasev, the owner of “Van Gogh”.
While making the place that will differ from the other places for going out, however, he could not have gone far from his passion for painting. He decided to open something that will have a close connection with the art. He used the first money he earned to buy paintings- the same ones that are exhibited today in the “Van Gogh” -works of Gligor Chemerski, Petar Mazev, Nikola Martinovski and Sergej Andreevski.

“‘Van Gogh’ was somehow the coolest  of all the places we went out. A mix of unconventional people and among them a bunch of avant-garde celebrity characters. There was a constant clientele. In those years of pop music , “Van Gogh”  was  the most alternative place in Skopje. Therefore, it was different. For us it was a gathering spot. They used to walk along the promenade, but we went in “Van Gogh”. Every day was beautiful: gangs, gossip, beer, cigarettes, jokes. The local was small, but the  people didn’t mint to stand outside, around the cafe.  For me, personally, it was particularly nice to stand on the wall across the street, opposite the entrance of ‘Gogh,’ “recalls Sani Shalom, a girl from Tel Aviv that I encountered in “Van Gogh”. The golden times of “Van Gogh” are neatly archived in the private archive of Biljana Stefanovska, another girl that was seen there every day. Today she works as an architect in Frankfurt am Main in Germany.
“Those were some strange  difficult times of personal searches, retrievals and losses. I started going there at the end of high school  and when I started my studies.  After I moved to Germany to study, each time I came to Skopje I spent all my free  time in or in front of  “’Van Gogh”. In a few years, the atmosphere changed there, I can say the aura too. There I felt like I was among my people, and not like I’m an alien. I met interesting individuals, beings with unusual humor, who opened my eyes for  new worlds and admiration. It was a place to exchange ideas, music, poetry. I did not feel the pressure of the conventional behavior, whether it was an exclamation, theatrically-satirical discussion of some writer or composer, or the sorrow for being misunderstood  or some love problem. I could go  there even when I felt  euphorical  or ‘shitty’, because I didn’t feel unconfortable. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to experience that  period of the history of ‘Van Gogh’ especially at that age, “recalls Biljana.
“Van Gogh” has since gone through various phases and scenarios. For the  people who discovered it at the end of the 1980’s, the story of “Van Gogh” ended quickly, when “Van Gogh” fused with  “Mondrian” – the “glitzy” café in the Old Bazaar. Than its style softened and many people who once came there on everyday basis were greeted by “foreigners”, who did not let them pass the doorway  of their once sacred  place.  Such was the experience of Secko, who was not  allowed to get in on the arranged meeting with one BBC reporter, who had to collect  the latest studio recordings.
But, never mind. “Van Gogh” celebrated  its 25 anniversary since the establishment. Today the cafe is run by Costa, the man who has long worked in  “Van Gogh”. Seeing what he does, you  feel encouraged. His  style is different, but he knowns how  to respect the  tradition. We have a good reason to gather again! See you in “Van Gogh”!

Vasko Markovski